- Paperback: 1136 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 9, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679776311
- ISBN-13: 978-0679776314
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (275 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe Reprint Edition
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If Albert Einstein were alive, he would have a copy of The Road to Reality on his bookshelf. So would Isaac Newton. This may be the most complete mathematical explanation of the universe yet published, and Roger Penrose richly deserves the accolades he will receive for it. That said, let us be perfectly clear: this is not an easy book to read. The number of people in the world who can understand everything in it could probably take a taxi together to Penrose's next lecture. Still, math-friendly readers looking for a substantial and possibly even thrillingly difficult intellectual experience should pick up a copy (carefully--it's over a thousand pages long and weighs nearly 4 pounds) and start at the beginning, where Penrose sets out his purpose: to describe "the search for the underlying principles that govern the behavior of our universe." Beginning with the deceptively simple geometry of Pythagoras and the Greeks, Penrose guides readers through the fundamentals--the incontrovertible bricks that hold up the fanciful mathematical structures of later chapters. From such theoretical delights as complex-number calculus, Riemann surfaces, and Clifford bundles, the tour takes us quickly on to the nature of spacetime. The bulk of the book is then devoted to quantum physics, cosmological theories (including Penrose's favored ideas about string theory and universal inflation), and what we know about how the universe is held together. For physicists, mathematicians, and advanced students, The Road to Reality is an essential field guide to the universe. For enthusiastic amateurs, the book is a project to tackle a bit at a time, one with unimaginable intellectual rewards. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
At first, this hefty new tome from Oxford physicist Penrose (The Emperor's NewMind) looks suspiciously like a textbook, complete with hundreds of diagrams and pages full of mathematical notation. On a closer reading, however, one discovers that the book is something entirely different and far more remarkable. Unlike a textbook, the purpose of which is purely to impart information, this volume is written to explore the beautiful and elegant connection between mathematics and the physical world. Penrose spends the first third of his book walking us through a seminar in high-level mathematics, but only so he can present modern physics on its own terms, without resorting to analogies or simplifications (as he explains in his preface, "in modern physics, one cannot avoid facing up to the subtleties of much sophisticated mathematics"). Those who work their way through these initial chapters will find themselves rewarded with a deep and sophisticated tour of the past and present of modern physics. Penrose transcends the constraints of the popular science genre with a unique combination of respect for the complexity of the material and respect for the abilities of his readers. This book sometimes begs comparison with Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, and while Penrose's vibrantly challenging volume deserves similar success, it will also likely lie unfinished on as many bookshelves as Hawking's. For those hardy readers willing to invest their time and mental energies, however, there are few books more deserving of the effort. 390 illus. (Feb. 24)
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Top Customer Reviews
would not be readable by a layperson. I read the first 270 pages so far, until I came to the first part that I had never
previously encountered. Then I put the book aside temporarily until I would be able to study that subject, which so far
I never did. Perhaps that might be typical reader behavior, except most people won't get to page 270 before they
find a page they cannot understand. So, buy this book only if you are prepared either to (1) study very hard using
many other sources in order to understand each chapter, or (2) want to just skim a little with an illusion of understanding.
While not an easy read, it is a great starting point for anyone looking to get back into physics - by approaching it from the mathematical side (Penrose is actually a mathematical physicist - he holds one of the most prestigious chairs in the world of mathematics). For those who are interested in the NEXT book after this one, I had compiled a list of similar 'self learning' books :
Penrose is a pre-eminent mathematician whose work has affected my own thinking in deep ways. Often I've discovered, to my surprise, that some viewpoint which I learned from another source in fact derived ultimately from Penrose himself, the author of this other source having been, as it turns out, a student of Penrose. As an example I offer "Visual Complex Analysis" by Tristan Needham. I encountered this book in high school and so powerful was its exposition that it stuck with me all through college and beyond to the present day. I couldn't help but notice, while reading "The Road to Reality," that Penrose engaged in a similar revelry around complex numbers -- and so it was a pleasant surprise to see that Needham indeed had studied directly under Penrose! Despite having this book in my collection for a few years only recently did I discover the connection.
With this tangential introduction out of the way, let me say at the outset that I cannot recommend this book to just anyone. It requires a great deal of mathematical acumen -- or perhaps, more accurately, a great deal of explicitly mathematical *interest*. You needn't be a mathematician, but you positively must delight in the opportunity of learning the mathematics of the universe. Even if you have a degree in mathematics you're likely to find something here you haven't encountered before -- for instance, I had not previously seen the notion of a hyperfunction which Penrose enthusiastically presents in connection with the Fourier transform.
The book's mathematical explanations are quite idiosyncratic, and I think this reflects the depth of Penrose's intuition on the topics. It elevates this book from an encyclopedic reference to a personal outpouring of the author's vision of the world. Not only does the book feature unique topics that aren't commonly taught, the aforementioned hyperfunctions being an example, but even those which are commonly taught are explicated here in a unique manner. Penrose's style is unabashedly geometric, and so even partial differential operators on manifolds he almost always thinks of as vector fields. The book is filled with many beautiful hand-drawn diagrams showing everything from a fanciful vision of the creation of the cosmos to a field of one-forms on a surface to the conservation of electric charge in spacetime. And the book prominently features throughout his diagrammatic notation for tensor algebra, something again which I had never encountered elsewhere.
I should say that this book approaches its physical topics from an exceptionally high level. You will probably not be able to learn electrodynamics from Penrose, not here. I don't recall the common form of Maxwell's equations even occurring in this book. Rather, he simply writes them down in the simplest, most beautiful, and most abstract form, using differential forms and exterior calculus. To delve in deeper, rather than expanding out these equations, he instead focuses on how they can arise as the curvature of a bundle connection via gauge theory. This is both stunningly beautiful and horrendously detached from practice.
Despite the overwhelming emphasis on theory and mathematics, the book is quite adamant in insisting that physics still must be physics. Penrose is not optimistic about string theory, though he does give it some treatment towards the end for completeness. He's perhaps like Feynman in that regard -- he possess a deep appreciation for the mathematics and the theory, but at the same time is very uneasy with the lack of testability of much of modern theoretical physics. His own theory, twistor theory, is just as untestable, though he's honest about that.