I learnt a lot reading this, and I even think I understood some of it. The first part takes you through the historical background to Einstein's famous equation, starting with Galileo's discovery that all motion is motion relative to something else (there's no absolute motion), then to the even more startling discovery that there's no absolute time, either (no 'big clock in the sky'), and the replacement of separate space and time with 'spacetime'. Spacetime must be curved (because Euclidian geometry won't work) and everything moves at speed through it (when I'm sitting down - not moving in space relative to myself - in one second I've still gone distance 'c' in spacetime). The authors make these strange concepts seem much more credible than I could ever do, and even explain why the concepts are bizarre to us (our conventional ones have been ingrained by natural selection).
In the later part, the book looks at the implications of all this: how destroying mass creates a vast amount of energy (in an atom bomb, for instance), how stars burn and how E=mc2 explains other astronomical phenomena like white dwarves, neutron stars and black holes; what the scary-looking Standard Model equation means, and the world of very small elementary particles (which are, yikes, also waves), and how experiments are done nowadays at CERN and elsewhere to get them interacting.
Among all this a lot of background gets pretty seamlessly filled in about how science works ('concepts must be testable by experiment'); what equations are for (allow you to predict the result of an experiment without having to conduct it); the mystery of why maths is so good at describing underlying natural phenomena; the importance of causality; and how light itself isn't special (it's just that its photons have zero mass and therefore always go at the universal maximum speed through space).
For a reader like me (with long-ago O level Physics), it was fine - you have to know (or learn) that, for instance E=mcÃ?Â² can become m=E/cÃ?Â² but that's about it. The book also often tells you the same thing several times - but that's actually helpful, rather than annoying, in a complex subject like this. I've never read such a good popular-science book.show more
by Jonathan Pseud