I teach physics at a community college and have developed a new course titled "Relativity for Poets," which I will be teaching for the first time in spring 2015. As implied by the title, it's a nonmathematical gen ed class (without a lab) for non-science majors, about relativity. I'm covering both SR and GR, and I also have to provide a lot of background knowledge that in theory my students would have learned if they went to a decent junior high school, but that in reality many of them won't know. For example, I expect to have to tell them that light is a wave and that white light is a mixture of all the rainbow colors. This is not a problem-solving course, and students will not be assigned any work outside of class that involves calculating anything. The course has a math prerequisite that is plane geometry plus a very basic algebra course (similar to what students in California are required to take in 9th grade). In reality many students will not be able to do basic math such as metric conversions or fractions.
The core of any presentation of relativity is going to be a careful, thorough presentation of kinematics in SR, and for this I'm planning to use Takeuchi (see list of books below) whose treatment of kinematics I really like.
What I'm still looking around for are two or three additional, inexpensive books covering:
- dynamics in SR
- general relativity
- general science background
For dynamics in SR, I'm not satisfied with Takeuchi's treatment, which seems to me to be poorly motivated. For GR, I'm considering Geroch, but it's a bit dry, makes no contact with experiment, and presents a particular form of the metric in what seems to me to be an overly mysterious way. I like Hewitt's presentation of GR, cosmology, and general science background, but I can't ask them to buy such an expensive book when it's only going to be one small part of the course.
When I teach courses for science majors, I've been assigning chapters from Gardner as supplementary (required) reading, and my students have always volunteered that it was fun to read. However, it's extremely out of date and inaccurate on cosmology and tests of relativity, and it uses relativistic mass, which is a disease that I'd rather not pass on to future generations.
I like Will and Weinberg, but they're both quite out of date, and both contain a lot of material that I wouldn't actually cover. I requested a review copy of Steane, and although I like some things about it, I felt that it was disorganized and that the text was too full of calculations, from which most readers at this level would not be able to abstract out the relevant points.
To get the course set up so it would transfer to the four-year schools in our state (California), I had to show that there was something at least somewhat similar being offered in the UC or Cal State system. This was tough, since such courses are thin on the ground (I was in fact very surprised that it got articulated by both systems), but UC Riverside has Physics 7: Space-Time, Relativity, and Cosmology. UCR uses Drakos, which I haven't been able to find out about; it may be out of print, or it may be an instructor's unpublished notes.
Can anyone suggest books for this type of course that would cover some of the areas where I have gaps? I'm hoping to keep the total cost of all the books under \$100, preferably more like \$60-80. I would consider upping the price tag if there was a book that was extremely compelling and perfectly matched to my needs.
books referred to above
- Drakos, From Antiquity to Einstein
- Gardner, Relativity Simply Explained
- Geroch, General Relativity from A to B
- Hewitt, Conceptual Physics
- Steane, The Wonderful World of Relativity
- Takeuchi, An Illustrated Guide to Relativity
- Weinberg, The First Three Minutes
- Will, Was Einstein Right?