Blogging will continue to be minimal, as I’m buried in grading, and feeling significant time pressure regarding the book-in-progress. I thought I’d pop up briefly, though, to provide a look at the current status of the book-in-progress.

The way this process works (or at least has worked for me) is that I write up a proposal describing what I plan to write about and giving some samples. For both books, this has included one full chapter worth of prospective text, plus a bunch of dog dialogues for other chapters. My agent then shops this around to publishers, one of whom buys it and sets a deadline. Whereupon I commence serious work on the rest of the text, and in the process completely shred the initial outline.

There has been a great deal of shuffling of material in the last few weeks, which has led to fewer words being written than I would’ve liked, but I think it’s been useful in that the outline has now shaken down into something fairly coherent, and I can picture where all the yet-to-be-written bits go and how they fit together.

In the possibly mistaken assumption that everybody finds writing process stuff as fascinating as, you know, writers, here’s the outline I sent in with the proposal:

  • 1) Introduction
    Why your dog needs to understand about the theory of relativity
  • 2) Relative Motion (complete chapter attached)
    The background of relativity, and the mathematical description of moving objects.

  • 3) Hidden Assumptions (dialogue attached)
    The conflict between the idea of relativity known to Galileo and Newton and the 19th century physics of electromagnetism, and the hidden assumptions that cause the problem
  • 4) Time Dilation (dialogue attached)
    An explanation of how relativity causes moving clocks to run slow, and leads to the famous Twin Paradox in which a fast-moving person ages more slowly.
  • 5) Length Contraction (dialogue attached)
    An explanation of length contraction, which causes fast-moving objects to shrink, and how it can be resolved through the timing of measurements.
  • 6) The Cosmic Speed Limit
    An explanation of the second-best-known consequence of relativity, that nothing can travel faster than light.
  • 7) The Equivalence of Mass and Energy (dialogue attached)
    An explanation of the world’s most famous equation, Einstein’s E=mc2.
  • 8) Unified Theories (dialogue attached)
    An explanation of how relativity helps show that electric and magnetic fields are aspects of a single force, and introducing the idea of unification of forces.
  • 9) General Relativity (dialogue attached)
    An explanation of how Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity shows that the force of gravity is caused by the curvature of space-time
  • 10) Extra Dimensions (dialogue attached)
    An explanation of how adding extra dimensions of space may help to unify General Relativity with quantum physics.
  • 11) Black Holes and Wormholes
    An explanation of some of the astronomical consequences of general relativity, like black holes, whose gravity is so strong that not even light can escape, and wormholes, hypothetical structures that might connect widely separated points in space and time without passing through the intervening distance.
  • 12) The Big Bang and the Fate of the Universe
    An explanation of some of the cosmological consequences of General Relativity, and what it can tell us about where the universe came from and how it will end.

Chapter 10 is in there because I wrote it out for the first draft of the previous book, and then it got cut for length. I’ve used the dialogue from that for a guest-blog post since then, but I wanted to use the full text if possible.

After much shuffling and fiddling, the current outline structure looks like this:

  • 0) Introduction (not yet written, but the introduction is always the last thing written)
  • 1) Relative Motion (background definitions, Galileian relativity)
  • 2) Hidden Assumptions (background, Michelson-Morley, etc.)
  • 3) Time Dilation (light clocks, Hafele-Keating, the recent ion clock measurements from Boulder, muon decay)
  • 4) Length Contraction (relativity of simultaneity, length contraction explained in terms of different timing)
  • 5) Space and Time (new chapter: spacetime interval, Minkowski diagrams, light cone)
  • 6) Speed of Light (velocity addition, relativistic momentum, causality)
  • 7) E=mc2 (energy and mass, particle physics)
  • 8) The Equivalence Principle (development of GR, bending of light, gravitational redshift, gravitational time dilation)
  • 9) Black Holes (GR as curvature of spacetime, black holes, maybe wormholes) (not finished yet)
  • 10) Relativity and Cosmology (Einstein, Friedmann, Lemaitre, the Big Bang, dark energy) (not finished yet)
  • 11) Unified Theories (stuff that doesn’t work yet: why QM and GR don’t play nice, what has been attempted to fix them, future prospects) (not written yet)

As you can see, the extra dimensions chapter has been cut for length again. General Relativity has expanded to two chapters, plus a bit of a third. Cosmology was completely out for a while, but has come back in, and unification of forces has moved to the very end, on the grounds that it’s better to explain stuff that we know works before stuff that doesn’t work at all.

There’s still room for some shuffling of those last three chapters (I’ve got probably 25% of the text written, but all three dialogues are done), but I think this will be the final chapter structure. There are still a few problem spots– chapters 5 and 7 are ginormous, but I’m not sure I can do anything about that– but I have a clear picture of the whole thing now, which I didn’t three weeks ago. so that’s progress.

Obviously, though, there’s lots of work yet to be done. And I still have labs to grade. so, if you’ll excuse me…


  1. #1 Kaleberg
    March 1, 2011

    It’s too soon to say congratulations, but it sounds like you are making real progress. It’s a wonderful feeling when you are putting something together for the first time and suddenly realize that you actually do have all the parts and a good idea of where they are supposed to go.

  2. #2 agm
    March 2, 2011

    Look forward to buying.

  3. #3 zayiflamayontemlerim
    March 4, 2011

    It’s too soon to say congratulations ;)

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