Bertrand Russell’s ABC of Relativity: The Classic Introduction to Einstein (Free Audio)

“Every­body knows that Ein­stein did some­thing aston­ish­ing,” writes Bertrand Rus­sell in the open­ing pas­sage of ABC of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty, “but very few peo­ple know exact­ly what it was. It is gen­er­al­ly rec­og­nized that he rev­o­lu­tion­ized our con­cep­tion of the phys­i­cal world, but the new con­cep­tions are wrapped up in math­e­mat­i­cal tech­ni­cal­i­ties. It is true that there are innu­mer­able pop­u­lar accounts of the the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty, but they gen­er­al­ly cease to be intel­li­gi­ble just at the point where they begin to say some­thing impor­tant.”

Eighty-sev­en years after it was writ­ten, ABC of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty still stands as one of the most intel­li­gi­ble intro­duc­tions to Albert Ein­stein’s the­o­ries. Rus­sell wrote the book in 1925 as a com­pan­ion to his ear­li­er vol­ume, ABC of Atoms. The project of writ­ing books for a gen­er­al read­er­ship was born of neces­si­ty. Rus­sell had no aca­d­e­m­ic appoint­ment, and need­ed the mon­ey. But as Peter Clark explains in his intro­duc­tion to the Rout­ledge fifth edi­tion to ABC of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty, the ear­ly 1920s were also a time when Rus­sell was becom­ing increas­ing­ly pre­oc­cu­pied with social and polit­i­cal issues. He believed that many of the social ills of the peri­od, includ­ing the rise of nation­al­ism, were con­se­quences of a wide­spread and entrenched irra­tional­i­ty, born of igno­rance and a lack of edu­ca­tion. Writes Clark:

It was cer­tain­ly a hero­ic peri­od in Rus­sel­l’s life, when he earnest­ly believed that the sort of blind unthink­ing prejudice–which he con­ceived to be fun­da­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble for the hor­rors of the First World War–could be tran­scend­ed by the dis­sem­i­na­tion of knowl­edge and the exer­cise in crit­i­cal rea­son­ing pow­er by all class­es of soci­ety. His huge out­put in this peri­od was designed to bring with­in, as far as pos­si­ble, every­one’s grasp the free­dom of thought and action which knowl­edge and learn­ing brings. That spir­it of enlight­en­ment cer­tain­ly per­vades the ABC of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty.

Thanks to UbuWeb, you can lis­ten to an abridged audio ver­sion of ABC of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty online. The book is read by Eng­lish actor Derek Jaco­bi (who also starred in the film we fea­tured last week on Alan Tur­ing: Break­ing the Code). Jaco­bi reads one of the lat­er edi­tions of ABC of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty. In 1959, and again in 1969, Rus­sell con­sent­ed to revi­sions by physi­cist Felix Pirani. Chap­ter 11 was rewrit­ten by Pirani to incor­po­rate the expan­sion of the uni­verse, which was­n’t announced by Edwin Hub­ble until four years after the first edi­tion of Rus­sel­l’s book. The one trou­bling thing about the text, as it now stands, is that Pirani did­n’t lim­it him­self to the revi­sions made under Rus­sel­l’s super­vi­sion. He made more changes in 1985, fif­teen years after Rus­sel­l’s death.

Stel­lar cours­es focus­ing on Ein­stein’s physics can also be found in our big col­lec­tion of Free Cours­es Online. Just scroll down to the Physics sec­tion.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.