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Home > Publications > Published books > Published Books of researchers of SPHERE: 2015-... > Relativity Principles and Theories from Galileo to Einstein

Relativity Principles and Theories from Galileo to Einstein

Olivier Darrigol

“Motion is always relative to some thing. Is this thing a concrete body like the earth, is it an abstract space, or is it an imagined frame? Do the laws of physics depend on the choice of reference? It there a choice for which the laws are simplest? Is this choice unique? Is there a physical cause for the choice made?

These questions traverse the history of modern physics from Galileo to Einstein. The answers involved Galilean relativity, Newton’s absolute space, the purely relational concepts of Descartes, Leibniz, and Mach, and many forgotten uses of relativity principles in mechanics, optics, and electrodynamics - until the relativity theories of Poincaré, Einstein, Minkowksi, and Laue radically redefined space and time to satisfy universal kinds of relativity.

Accordingly, this book retraces the emergence of relativity principles in early modern mechanics, documents their constructive use in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mechanics, optics, and electrodynamics, and gives a well-rooted account of the genesis of special and general relativity in the early twentieth century. As an exercise in long-term history, it demonstrates the connectivity of issues and approaches across several centuries, despite enormous changes in context and culture. As an account of the genesis of relativity theories, it brings unprecedented clarity and fullness by broadening the spectrum of resources on which the principal actors drew. ”

"Truly excellent and fills an important gap in the research landscape on relativity. " - Juergen Renn, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

"Well thought out and could become the definitive work that connects the developments pertinent to relativity from the 17th century to the present. " - John D. Norton, University of Pittsburgh

"This first rate work pulls together many historical scientific strands, and is certain to initiate a lively discussion. " - Diana Kormos-Buchwald, Caltech

Olivier Darrigol est directeur de recherche au CNRS (SPHere, UMR 7219) et chercheur à l’OHST, University of California, Berkeley, USA


1: Rethinking motion in the seventeenth century

2:Deriving Newton’s second law from relativity principles

3:The space-time-inertia tangle

4:The optics of moving bodies

5:The electrodynamics of moving bodies

6:Poincaré’s relativity theory

7:The relativity theory of Einstein, Minkowski, and Laue

8:From Riemann to Ricci

9:Mostly Einstein: To general relativity

10:Mesh and measure in early general relativity


:: Oxford University Press
:: Parution : 22/12/2021
:: ISBN : 9780192849533
:: 496 p., 30 illustrations