Relativity and Man – V. Smilga

Our task is to comprehend the purely physical essence 
of the theory, without going into problems which cannot
be explained here with sufficient clarity.

After seeing three books (RTG and STG) on General Relativity (GR) and one Special Theory of Relativity (STR), we come to yet another book on STR. In this post we will see a popular science book on STR titled Relativity and Man by V. Smilga. In other words this can be your first book on relativity, as opposed to the earlier three books 🙂

This book is about the special theory of relativity. A secondary schooling is adequate to understand it, but reading it calls for some mental concentration as well as an ability for mental abstraction. The unsophisticated reader may, therefore, find it difficult and boring. Nevertheless, since the discourse is abundantly interspersed with general statements and sundry examples and analogies, and insofar as most statements of fact are declared but not proved, the book can probably be classified as popular science reading.

The book in the first few chapters the classical concepts of Newtonian mechanics of length and time, so as to give the reader a comprehensive understanding of the paradoxes and “astonishing” results that we arrive at in STR. In my opinion the strangeness of results of STR (and for that matter of Quantum Mechanics also) paradoxes many times appears not so strange (they are just some theoretical results) to students, as they do not have much substantial understanding of the classical concepts themselves. So when something unexpected happens, the students are not in a position to appreciate that result well. Also discussed at length is the rise and fall of the stationary ether, and hence in this connection how the theories regarding light developed historically. The postulates of STR with their possible implications for observables (time, length) are discussed in details in the later chapters. The book has some really nice illustrations, ones that fit in a popular science book perfectly.

The book was translated from the Russian by V. Talmy and was designed by B. Zhutovsky. The book was published by Progress Publishers in 1964.

You can get the book here.

Update: 11 December 2015 | Added Internet Archive Link

PDF | OCR | 600 dpi| Bookmarked| Paginated| Covers | 356 pages| 20.4 MB

Get the magnet link/torrent here.


Introduction in which the author confides in the gentle reader
and endeavours to explain, most didactically, why and
wherefore he ever sat down to write this book

Chapter I, which is devoted entirely to the one who laid the foundations.

Chapter II, which touches ‘very briefly on the life and character of Newton. Towards the end the reader finds out about the method of principles.
NEWTON. MECHANICS (the method) 38

Chapter III, the Longest and probably most difficult chapter
in the book. It discusses the theory of mensuration in
NEWTON. MECHANICS (analysis of basic concepts: length and time) 46

Chapter IV, the shortcomings of which are atoned for by the epigraph. It contains a rather dry and long-winded explanation of what is meant by a frame of reference; the important
idea is brought home that without a frame of reference any talk of mechanical motion is absolutely pointless.
NEWTON. MECHANICS (analysis of basic concepts: motion) 88

Chapter V, in which the author first discourses and then professes amazement and calls upon the gentle reader to follow suit.
NEWTON. MECHANICS (analysis of basic concepts: frame of reference) 103

Chapter VI, which, the author hopes, is rather interesting.

Chapter VII, which, though rather vague, after many digressions finally explains why physicists were so attracted by the ether hypothesis.
LIGHT, THE ETHER (Newton, Huygens) 154

Chapter VIII, which is devoted to the wave theory of light. The patient reader may derive some satisfaction out of an acquaintance with some very subtle and far-reaching conclusions developed from an investigation of the strange effect of double refraction.
THE ETHER (continued) 168

Chapter IX, a perusal of which may help the reader to form a slightly better idea of how “simple” it is to study physics.

Chapter X, the chief merit of which lies in a rather detailed account of the Doppler effect and Michelson’s experiment, and the chief fault of which is an abundance of soliloquising. In this chapter the reader finally parts with the ether and is ready for the theory of relativity.

Chapter XI, in which the author seeks to confuse the patient reader by convincing him of the contradictions of Einstein’s postulates. As a result, it turns out that they are incompatible
with classical mechanics, and the author asks the reader to share his profound admiration for Einstein. The first half of, the chapter may seem somewhat difficult, but the reader
may find consolation in the fact that it is the second half that matters more.
EINSTEIN (basic postulates) 239

Chapter XII, which expounds in considerable detail on the postulate of the uniformity of the velocity of light and then goes over to discuss the concepts of time and simultaneity in relativity theory.
EINSTEIN (simultaneity, time) 261

Chapter XIII, which informs the reader in a very matter-of-fact way what is meant by “space-time separation” and the Lorentz transformation. Towards the end of the chapter, if he
ever gets to it, the reader will find out the curious formula for adding velocities in Einstein’s theory.
EINSTEIN (“astonishing” conclusions) 280

Chapter XIV, which discusses two corollaries of relativity theory which are usually the cause of much bewilderment.
EINSTEIN (time, length) 290
Chapter XV, the content of which should atone for its faults.
EINSTEIN. THE LAWS OF MECHANICS (mass and energy) 306

Conclusion, in which the author bids the reader farewell 321

Chapter XVI, the last, and in some respects a heretical one. It anathematises photon rockets and sets forth the author’s ideas on day-dreaming. After this the over-patient reader will probably fling the book away with a sigh of relief.


Index 343

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9 Responses to Relativity and Man – V. Smilga

  1. S.Sanjay says:

    dear Damitr,
    here he has touched the special theory. check out smilga’s take on riemannian geometry and general theory of relativity in his book ‘in the search for beauty’.

    • damitr says:

      Dear Sanjay,
      Do you have access to Smilga’s other book In search of Beauty? I would be great to have it here. BTW another way to contribute is to look out libraries in India which have these books. Then maybe we can get these by our contacts in respective cities. Hyderabad Central University and IITB have some of the book that we are looking for.


      • S.Sanjay says:

        dear friend,
        i will try to get it for you.

        • Boris Smilga says:

          Hello. I have stumbled upon this excellent site somewhat accidentally, and was happy to find granddad’s footprints, so to say, on Indian soil. As the keeper of his estate, I happen to have the English edition of “In the Search for Beauty”, and, since you are interested in it, I have scanned it for the common good. You’ll find the file at (size≈23MB at 300 dpi, md5=718dd7f03a78325e82f0527854a9a394); please contact me if you have any trouble downloading it.

          • damitr says:

            Dear Boris,

            It is indeed a great pleasure for all of us to have contribution from you. We are fortunate enough to have Man and Relativity written by your grandfather. Many many, thanks for “In the Search for Beauty” we were looking for it from quite some time.

            Thanks once again!


  2. s.sanjay says:

    Дорогой Борис!
    спасибо за книгу. это удовольствие, чтобы получить книгу из членов семьи автора.

  3. I have seen this book in the IUCAA library, Pune, in India. Infact I was enthralled with the treatment of the subject in this book. How can I purchase a copy of this one without any time delay. I am a college teacher and this will help me in many

  4. I need both books, relativity and man as well in search of beauty…

  5. The Mitr says:

    Update: 11 December 2015 | Added Internet Archive Link

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