Gravitation (book)

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Authors Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, and John Archibald Wheeler
Cover artist Kenneth Gwin
Language English
Subject Physics
Publisher W. H. Freeman
Publication date
1973 (1973)
Media type Print
Pages xxvi, 1279
ISBN 0-7167-0344-0
OCLC 585119
LC Class QC178 .M57

Gravitation is a physics book on Einstein's theory of gravity, written by Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, and John Archibald Wheeler and originally published by W. H. Freeman and Company in 1973. Owing to its prominence, it is often considered the early "bible" of general relativity by researchers, and is frequently called MTW after its authors' initials. To quote Ed Ehrlich[1]

"'Gravitation' is such a prominent book on relativity that the initials of its authors MTW can be used by other books on relativity without explanation."

The book, whose size and shape at over 1200 pages, is similar to that of a large telephone book. The cover illustration, drawn by Kenneth Gwin, is a line drawing of an apple with cuts in the skin to show geodesics. There are 10 parts and 44 chapters, every part and chapter begins with a quotation. The bibliography has a long list of original sources and other notable books in the field. The level of the book is advanced, with the intended audience at the graduate-level and above.


Subject matter[edit]

After a brief review of special relativity and flat spacetime, physics in curved spacetime is introduced and many aspects of general relativity are covered; particularly about the Einstein field equations and their implications, experimental confirmations, and alternatives to general relativity. Segments of history are included to summarize the ideas leading up to Einstein's theory. The book concludes by questioning the nature of spacetime and suggesting possible frontiers of research. Although the exposition on linearized gravity is detailed, one topic which is not covered is gravitoelectromagnetism. Some quantum mechanics is mentioned, but quantum field theory in curved spacetime and quantum gravity are not included.

The topics covered are broadly divided into two "tracks", the first contains the core topics while the second has more advanced content. The first track can be read independently of the second track. The main text is supplemented by boxes containing extra information, which can be omitted without loss of continuity. Margin notes are also inserted to annotate the main text.

The mathematics, primarily tensor calculus and differential forms in curved spacetime, is developed as required. An introductory chapter on spinors near the end is also given. There are numerous illustrations of advanced mathematical ideas such as alternating multilinear forms, parallel transport, and the orientation of the hypercube in spacetime. Mathematical exercises and physical problems are included for the reader to practice.

The prose in the book is conversational; the author's use plain language and analogies to everyday objects. For example, Lorentz transformed coordinates are described as a "squashed egg-crate" with an illustration. Tensors are described as "machines with slots" to insert vectors or one-forms, and containing "gears and wheels that guarantee the output" of other tensors.

Sign and unit conventions[edit]

MTW uses the −+++ metric convention, and dissuades the use of the ++++ metric and imaginary time coordinate ict. In the front endpapers, the sign conventions for the Einstein field equations are established and the conventions used by many other authors are listed.

The book also uses geometrized units, the gravitational constant G and speed of light in vacuum c each set to 1. The back endpapers contain a table of unit conversions.

Typography and notational conventions[edit]

The main sans-serif font is Univers (not Arial), and the main serif font is Times New Roman. Three-dimensional vectors in space are in bold-italic-serif, while four-dimensional vectors in spacetime are in bold-italic-sans-serif.

Editions and translations[edit]

The book has been reprinted in English 24 times. Hardback and softcover editions have been published. The original citation is

It has also been translated into other languages, including Russian (in three volumes), Chinese,[2] and Japanese.[3]

Reviews and criticism[edit]

The book is still considered influential in the physics community, with generally positive reviews, but with some criticism of the book's length and presentation style. James Hartle notes in his book[4]

"Over thirty years since its publication, Gravitation is still the most comprehensive treatise on general relativity. An authoritative and complete discussion of almost any topic in the subject can be found within its 1300 pages. It also contains an extensive bibliography with references to original sources. Written by three twentieth-century masters of the subject, it set the style for many later texts on the subject, including this one."

while Sean M. Carroll states[5]

"The book that educated at least two generations of researchers in gravitational physics. Comprehensive and encyclopedic, the book is written in an often-idiosyncratic way that you will either like or not".

and Pankaj Sharan writes[6]

"The absolute darling of students and researchers in general relativity. Its twenty fourth reprint came out in 2002! "Merely holding the book in your hand makes you think about gravity!", we used to say as students in the 1970s. The presently available paperback is lighter, a little above two kilograms. This large sized (20cm × 25cm), 1272 page book begins at the very beginning and has everything on gravity (up to 1973). There are hundreds of diagrams and special boxes for additional explanations, exercises, historical and bibliographical asides and bibliographical details. It must have converted a fair number of people into research in general relativity."

Ray D'Inverno suggests[7]

"I would also recommend looking at the relevant sections of the text of Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler, known for short as "MTW". MTW is a rich resource and is certainly worth consulting for a whole string of topics. However, its style is not perhaps for everyone (I find it somewhat verbose in places and would not recommend it for a first course in general relativity)". MTW has a very extensive bibliography."

Many texts on general relativity refer to it in their bibliographies or footnotes. In addition to the four given, other modern references include George Efstathiou et al.,[8] Bernard F. Schutz,[9] James Foster et al.,[10] Robert Wald,[11] and Stephen Hawking et al.[12]

Other prominent physics books also cite it, for example Classical mechanics by Herbert Goldstein who comments[13]

"This massive treatise (1279 pages! (the pun is irresistible)) is to be praised for the great efforts made to help the reader through the maze. The pedagogic apparatus includes separately marked tracks, boxes of various kinds, marginal comments, and cleverly designed diagrams."

The popular science book The Road to Reality by Roger Penrose also cites it.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

The book makes an appearance in the 2014 film Interstellar.[15] One of the authors (Kip Thorne) was a consultant for the film to make the special effects as realistic as possible, based on the predictions of general relativity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ehrlich, Ed. "Gravitation - Book Review". Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Kip Thorne. "Publications as of 7 June 2010". Retrieved 24 February 2016. 
  3. ^ "Juryoku riron : Gravitation koten rikigaku kara sotaisei riron made jiku no kikagaku kara uchu no kozo e. (Japanese)". Retrieved 24 February 2016. 
  4. ^ J. B. Hartle (2003). Gravity: An Introduction to Einstein's General Relativity. Addison-Wesley. p. 563. ISBN 9780805386622. 
  5. ^ S. Carroll (2003). Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity. Addison-Wesley. p. 496. ISBN 9780805387322. 
  6. ^ P. Sharan (2009). Spacetime, Geometry and Gravitation. Springer. p. 34. ISBN 9780805387322. 
  7. ^ R. D'Inverno (1992). Introducing Einstein's Relativity. Clarendon Press. p. 371. ISBN 9780198596868. 
  8. ^ M. P. Hobson; G. P. Efstathiou; A. N. Lasenby (2006). General Relativity: An Introduction for Physicists. Cambridge University Press. p. 555. ISBN 9780521829519. 
  9. ^ B. Schutz (1985). A First Course in General Relativity. Cambridge University Press. p. 362. ISBN 0521277035. 
  10. ^ Foster, J; Nightingale, J.D. (1995). A Short Course in General Relativity (2nd ed.). Springer. p. 222. ISBN 0-03-063366-4. 
  11. ^ R. M. Wald (1984). General Relativity. Chicago University Press. p. 479. ISBN 9780226870335. 
  12. ^ S. W. Hawking; W. Israel (1987). Three Hundred Years of Gravitation. Cambridge University Press. p. 327. ISBN 9780521379762. 
  13. ^ H. Goldstein (1980). Classical mechanics (2nd ed.). Addison-wesley. p. 333. ISBN 0-201-02918-9. 
  14. ^ R. Penrose (2005). The Road to Reality. vintage books. p. 1072. ISBN 978-00994-40680. 
  15. ^ Christopher Berry (November 2014). "Interstellar: science and fiction". 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]