Einstein's special theory of relativity and the problems in the electrodynamics of moving bodies that led him to it

Modern readers turning to Einstein’s famous 1905 paper on special relativity may not find what they expect. Its title, “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies,” gives no inkling that it will develop an account of space and time that will topple Newton’s system. Even its first paragraph just calls to mind an elementary experimental result due to Faraday concerning the interaction of a magnet and conductor. Only then does Einstein get down to the business of space and time and lay out a new theory in which rapidly moving rods shrink and clocks slow and the speed of light becomes an impassable barrier. This special theory of relativity has a central place in modern physics. As the first of the modern theories, it provides the foundation for particle physics and for Einstein’s general theory of relativity; and it is the last point of agreement between them. It has also received considerable attention outside physics. It is the first port of call for philosophers and other thinkers, seeking to understand what Einstein did and why it changed everything. It is often also their last port. The theory is arresting enough to demand serious reflection and, unlike quantum theory and general relativity, its essential content can be grasped fully by someone merely with a command of simple algebra. It contains Einstein’s analysis of simultaneity, probably the most celebrated conceptual analysis of the century.
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