- Paperback: 1136 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 9, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679776311
- ISBN-13: 978-0679776314
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 284 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,371 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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“A comprehensive guide to physics’ big picture, and to the thoughts of one of the world’s most original thinkers.”—The New York Times
“Simply astounding. . . . Gloriously variegated. . . . Pure delight. . . . It is shocking that so much can be explained so well. . . . Penrose gives us something that has been missing from the public discourse on science lately–a reason to live, something to look forward to.” —American Scientist
“A remarkable book . . . teeming with delights.” —Nature
“This is his magnum opus, the culmination of an already stellar career and a comprehensive summary of the current state of physics and cosmology. It should be read by anyone entering the field and referenced by everyone working in it.” —The New York Sun
“Extremely comprehensive. . . . The Road to Reality unscores the fact that Penrose is one of the world’s most original thinkers.” —Tucson Citizen
“What a joy it is to read a book that doesn't simplify, doesn't dodge the difficult questions, and doesn't always pretend to have answers. . . . Penrose’s appetite is heroic, his knowledge encyclopedic, his modesty a reminder that not all physicists claim to be able to explain the world in 250 pages.”
—The Times (London)
“For physics fans, the high point of the year will undoubtedly be The Road to Reality.”
“A truly remarkable book...Penrose does much to reveal the beauty and subtlety that connects nature and the human imagination, demonstrating that the quest to understand the reality of our physical world, and the extent and limits of our mental capacities, is an awesome, never-ending journey rather than a one-way cul-de-sac.”—London Sunday Times
“Penrose’s work is genuinely magnificent, and the most stimulating book I have read in a long time.”—Scotland on Sunday
“Science needs more people like Penrose, willing and able to point out the flaws in fashionable models from a position of authority and to signpost alternative roads to follow.”—The Independent
About the Author
Roger Penrose is Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University. He has received a number of prizes and awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics, which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their joint contribution to our understanding of the universe. His books include The Emperor's New Mind, Shadows of the Mind, and The Nature of Space and Time, which he wrote with Hawking. He has lectured extensively at universities throughout America. He lives in Oxford.
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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.
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.