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The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe [Hardcover]

Roger Penrose
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)

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Book Description

22 Feb 2005
From one of our greatest living scientists, a magnificent book that provides, for the serious lay reader, the most comprehensive and sophisticated account we have yet had of the physical universe and the essentials of its underlying mathematical theory.

Since the earliest efforts of the ancient Greeks to find order amid the chaos around us, there has been continual accelerated progress toward understanding the laws that govern our universe. And the particularly important advances made by means of the revolutionary theories of relativity and quantum mechanics have deeply altered our vision of the cosmos and provided us with models of unprecedented accuracy.

What Roger Penrose so brilliantly accomplishes in this book is threefold. First, he gives us an overall narrative description of our present understanding of the universe and its physical behaviors–from the unseeable, minuscule movement of the subatomic particle to the journeys of the planets and the stars in the vastness of time and space.

Second, he evokes the extraordinary beauty that lies in the mysterious and profound relationships between these physical behaviors and the subtle mathematical ideas that explain and interpret them.

Third, Penrose comes to the arresting conclusion–as he explores the compatibility of the two grand classic theories of modern physics–that Einstein’s general theory of relativity stands firm while quantum theory, as presently constituted, still needs refashioning.

Along the way, he talks about a wealth of issues, controversies, and phenomena; about the roles of various kinds of numbers in physics, ideas of calculus and modern geometry, visions of infinity, the big bang, black holes, the profound challenge of the second law of thermodynamics, string and M theory, loop quantum gravity, twistors, and educated guesses about science in the near future. In The Road to Reality he has given us a work of enormous scope, intention, and achievement–a complete and essential work of science

Product details

  • Hardcover: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group (22 Feb 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679454438
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679454434
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 16.5 x 5.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,368,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Penrose is truly one of the world's leading mathematical physicists. Genuinely magnificent and stimulating" (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" (Independent)

"This is a tour de force that is unlikely to be bettered this decade" (Financial Times) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

'A truly remarkable book...this is just the sort of book that could inspire mathematical awakenings' - Sunday Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but difficult 22 May 2007
By M. Otte
When choosing the rating for this book I doubted between 5 and 1 stars. Why?

Well even for someone with some mathematical background (although it's been quite some time ago) this book is tough. If you're not mathematically minded you're better of with a book with less formula's and numerical examples. Although Penrose states many times one can just read "over" the more difficult parts and still get the gist of the story, I tend to disagree. His is a beautiful treaty on the most important mathematical theories that we have at the moment and that are used in physics or more specifically cosmology. He builds a well thought out "story" that should give the reader a thorough insight in the building blocks of physical theories. If you skip over the mathematical explanations you miss the basis upon which the rest of the book is leaning. I think some understanding (more then just basic) is necessary to appreciate the wonders of cosmology, at least as presented in this book.

If on the other hand you have a firm grip on maths and are not afraid to extend this knowledge, then Penrose will keep you busy for many weeks and lets you peek at the wonders of cosmology.

So depending on your scientific background and appetite for maths, this is a great adventure or frustrating Herculean task.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read one and a half times 6 Sep 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Unless your IQ is commensurate with the number of pages in the book (1100), do not read cover to cover. The "meat" is in chapters 17 to 34, so omit the exercises and chapters 2 to 16 for a first reading, accept that many terms will be unfamiliar but that everything which is presented can be verified. When you have three months to spare, re-read the book fully. Chapters 2 to 16 gradually introduce the mathematical concepts used, and you can verify everything presented in the rest of the book.

The book is similar to a mystery story with the last chapter removed, and you desperately seek that final chapter i.e. the book is well-titled "The Road (emphasised) to Reality": it describes the journey towards an understanding of the Universe, but it fails to provide a Theory of Everything.

Penrose gives more hints about what cannot constitute a Theory of Everything than what can. String theory, of ten or eleven dimensions, is a definite non-starter (Penrose is irritating in the number of times he tells us this.), and current quantum field theory must give way to something more like twistor theory in order to account for non-local interactions (and there is a tantalising suggestion that, by explaining wave-function collapse, it could partly demystify consciousness). Einstein's gravitational theory, however, is acceptable, and - good news for those of us who had difficulty comprehending 26 dimensions - four dimensions are the flavour of the month.

This is a heavy book, in both senses of the word, but if your heroes are Einstein, Dirac, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking then buy it. If they aren't, buy it anyway - they will be.
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93 of 99 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not For The True Layman, But Fantastic Otherwise 10 April 2006
By A Customer
I agree with other reviewers that this book is not appropriate for anyone without a degree in the physical sciences. However, people who have done a degree, even in physics at a prestigious university often come out not really knowing what's going on. Courses almost exclusively focus on examineable material and so the beauty of the whole thing is lost in routine calculations and derivations. If this sounds unhappily familiar, this book is probably for you.
For me, it was probably the most engrossing book I have ever read. Penrose explains how all the various theories and theorems interact to form a beautiful and coherent whole, but does so by building on the maths rather than the broken analogies pop-science usually uses.
It is probably worth bearing in mind that he does have a rather unusual interpretation of even the most basic physical theories. The interpretations come directly from the maths, so there is certainly no crackpottery going on, though it can be a bit of work to connect back to what you already know from university. But when you do, it is the most fantastic feeling in the world, and the reason this is the only book I have ever bothered to review on amazon.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Eventually History remembers the great books - "The Road to Reality" is a true work of art, destined to be a classic - It is the first genuine attempt to cover in one book the state of theoretical physics today. Where other popular science books attempt to simplify the theory and omit equations, thereby reducing themselves to talking about the theory ... "The Road to Reality" PRESENTS the theory. It is a subtle, but important difference that I will try to illuminate in the rest of this review.

"The Road to Reality" makes the modern theories of physics easily accessible to mathematicians and layman alike, in a self-contained text. It achieves this by virtue of being the first popular science book on theoretical physics to devote its first 16 chapters to introducing the reader to the pre-requisite Mathematics and `Philosophy of Science' necessary to understand the theoretical physics presented in chapters 17 to 34. The book is littered with necessary equations, but all are introduced in a logical, intuitive manner and provided with some of the best explanations in words and pictures that I have seen to date.

As such the equations can be viewed merely as markers in the text if reading as a popular science book. Conversely they can be used to guide the serious theoretical physicist in attempting the minimal but carefully chosen and difficult exercises, and any mathematical investigations the reader may be inspired to conduct themselves upon reading the beautiful exposition of physical theories of our universe.

As justified above, the best thing about the book is its 1094 pages can be read at various levels ....
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars The Road to Reality. Penrose. This may be ...
The Road to Reality. Penrose. This may be Penrose's road to reality but it will not I fear be either a road to reality or comprehension for the generality of the public. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Miketang
3.0 out of 5 stars The road to you realising you're just not that smart...
Baffled. I've read a lot of popular science, understood a great deal of it. Needless to say I imagine this book to be beyond most laymen.
Published 14 days ago by jordan turnbull
5.0 out of 5 stars A distillation of the work of a genius
In some ways, this is more like a collection of academic papers than a book for the layman.

I have a degree in Physics from rather a long time ago. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Marcus
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Excellent on any point of view
Published 24 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Have anyone really read this?
So... it's ok I guess. At least it's quite impressive. Sizewise, you know. Have anyone ever read the whole thing?
Published 2 months ago by Christian Bierlich
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful explanations
Others have commented at length on this text - others whose critique is more valuable because of their level of knowledge. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Albear
1.0 out of 5 stars Useless (with all due respect to Sir Roger Penrose)
I have read many of Penrose's books (including the very technical and useful "Techniques of Differential Topology in Relativity" as well as the popular books like "Emperor's New... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Tigran Aivazian
5.0 out of 5 stars Tug reading
Gave up at the end, this book is more for a serious student, not someone with little more than a casual interest like me, I will go back to it though.
Published 8 months ago by Robert Coley
1.0 out of 5 stars Abysmally self-defeating !!!
If, as advertised, this book is aimed at neophytes in mathematics and in physics, then something has gone terribly wrong in the editing world. Read more
Published 17 months ago by André Gargoura
1.0 out of 5 stars A Bad Surprise
Having studied mathematics earlier and, while enhancing my knowledge on astrophysics, especially string theory, I had in mind to refresh and expand my mathematical basis when I... Read more
Published 22 months ago by casey-san
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