Customer Reviews


82 Reviews
5 star:
 (26)
4 star:
 (17)
3 star:
 (13)
2 star:
 (7)
1 star:
 (19)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read one and a half times
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...
Published on 6 Sept. 2009 by P. TURNER

versus
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but difficult
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"...
Published on 22 May 2007 by M. Otte


‹ Previous | 1 29 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read one and a half times, 6 Sept. 2009
By 
P. TURNER - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (Paperback)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but difficult, 22 May 2007
By 
M. Otte (Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


98 of 104 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
This review is from: The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (Paperback)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Road to Reality - The journey continues..., 22 Sept. 2010
By 
Dr. Roy Simpson (Hertfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (Paperback)
I have treasured this book for the five years that I have owned it. I have a background in some of the maths and physics which undoubtedly helps. This book is not quite enough on its own (I am not sure if a single book really could be) for fully explaining many of the constructs however, but the Penrose approach to unify concepts and present them in terms of a larger picture is what is useful here. In fact if I read about an interesting concept in another book or article, it is often the case that I can dip back into the appropriate chapter of this book to see what Penrose's opinion on the given topic might be. Undoubtedly it is like a textbook in that sense, with sections to be read again and again.

The problem for all such comprehensive physics books, of course, is that there is no unified theory to present just yet. So we have different theories, some of which are quite popular (amongst physicists). Penrose's approach in this book is to look at many of these theories, but by no means all (for example only some of the Quantum Theory Interpretations are discussed) and to give his mathematics oriented view of them.

Penrose's own key ideas are presented towards the end of the book. These views are not standard in the physics community as yet, but his comments on other topics (e.g. Quantum Interpretations, Thermodynamics) are worth considering.

One final point for the editors is that I found the little symbols used to differentiate the "easy" from the "medium" and "hard" exercises not easy to distinguish in the print at the bottom of the pages.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A weighty tome but worth the effort, 22 April 2010
By 
Laurence Lazarus (Toronto, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (Paperback)
This book is a weighty tome - physically and mentally. Nonetheless, it is worth the effort and perseverance necessary to get through it. For those who have no post-secondary training in mathematics, some of the content can be challenging. A review of some of some of the reviews already presented suggests that Chapter 7 is where the challenge begins. "Complex-Number Calculus" is not something we think about on a daily basis. Yet it is important to understand this concept, before truly digesting the rest of this book.

There are some valid criticisms: Some will find this book too superficial in its treatment of mathematics and some will find that it is too mathematical. For example, thirty or so pages of basic calculus barely scratches the surface of that subject and many of his explanations of complex numbers, logarithms, Riemann surfaces, etc. while prosaic, could have been supported with broader explanations and some examples.

On the other side of the coin, it is to his credit that Mr Penrose does assume that some of his readers may freeze up at the thought of Mathematics or Physics. He therefore does try to make both subjects interesting for those less scientifically inclined and, in doing so, not get too rigorous. In his Preface, he recommends various ways to read and attempt to understand this book. He even suggests a way to read the book while skipping over the mathematical formulae. However, if you really want to enjoy the full essence of this book it would be better to understand the math.

A few suggestions which I think will help. The Bibliography, which incidentally occupies 35 pages, provides additional reference material. For those who want a better understanding of the math, I would recommend John Stillwell's "Mathematics and its History" (published by Springer). It will help to fill in the gaps of some of the earlier sections of Penrose's book, and provides a rich understanding of the concepts. For those who are having problems with Chapter 7, you should find that Stillwell's Chapters 14, 15 & 16 (each relating to complex numbers) quite rewarding. Another book is Tristan Needham's "Visual Complex Analysis". Penrose references this book. I have just received it and read the first few chapters. It is worth the investment.

Finally, while I do not presume to read Mr Penrose's mind, I do think he wrote this to encourage a broader understanding of scientific knowledge in the 21st. century. In this aspect I think he succeeds admirably. This book answers a lot of questions and poses a lot more. From reading the book I was encouraged to increase my own scientific knowledge, read a lot more and modify some of my own views.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are you up for a challenge?, 18 Aug. 2004
By A Customer
Bravo to Penrose and his publishers for daring to lay this before the general reader! This review is really for those like me who have had no formal mathematical training beyond the age of 15, yet wish to understand as best they can how the universe exists and unfolds. Penrose doesn't give up on us before he's started and just give us the gloss, he treats us as real willing students. I'm only up to chapter 11 so far, and many parts of it are certainly hard work - an evening may be spent on 3 or 4 pages. But he is a good teacher, and works hard at taking the reader deeper in successive steps. Those without a mathematical background will still need to consult other books, or skip bits, but it is a valiant effort. With a long way to go yet I feel sure the thought and concentration required will be amply rewarded. Why should these things be understood only by the cognoscenti? Penrose and his publisher's have been brave in producing this fine work. Be brave and read it!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The road right back to the book shop, 4 April 2006
By 
Dave (Holmfirth, Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (Paperback)
This book certainly seems to polarise opinions. I have yet to read a neutral review of it. It is either praised to the skies or condemned as useless. It doesn't take a Penrose (or an Aristotle) to point out that these two views are logically incompatible!
I have a good deal of sympathy with the reviewer who got as far as chapter 6 before giving up in disgust. I have got just a little bit further at the cost of considerable effort. However I do not think the book is useless and I'm sure some readers will genuinely enjoy it.
There are a few problems. Firstly the blurb is plain dishonest. Secondly Penrose's preface in which he states that it is possible to read the book and gain something from it whilst skipping most of the maths is hopelessly naive and optimistic.
Make no mistake about it, if you do not enjoy Maths for its own sake you are not going to get very far with this book.
Like several of your other reviewers I studied Maths at school and enjoyed it.
I then went on to study Medicine at university and have always nursed a vague sense of inferiority about my "school boy" Maths.
I believe anyone who tackles the book with this kind of background is going to struggle pretty badly and more specifically they are going to get stuck on chapter 7 ("Complex number calculus").
Personally I read the first 6 chapters with enjoyment and even managed to do some of the examples. It started me thinking again about the Maths I had learned long ago and I found that I enjoyed doing so. Further Maths books were purchased and most outside observers are of the opinion that I have wasted a good deal of time (I have however enjoyed myself in a strange sort of way.)
I now understand (to my own satisfaction at least) most of the first 6 chapters. It has to be said that I learned very little of this from actually reading Penrose's book on its own. I found further reading essential. Penrose presents only the barest bones of the subject and expects a great deal from the reader in terms of thinking for him or herself. There is absolutely no "spoon feeding". The prose is dense and takes some getting used to, however I think he does manage to communicate a sense of excitement in the subject.
The approach is unconventional but I have found that if something is already well understood (by learning it at a more leisurely pace elsewhere) then Penrose's take on the subject can be quite illuminating. For example his approach to the exponential form of a complex number via an informal but convincing definition of a complex logarithm is far easier to grasp intuitively than the usual power series proof.
So far so good. No more school Maths after chapter 6!
Before reading this book I had never heard of complex calculus. Perhaps I flatter myself but I don't honestly believe anyone unfamiliar with this subject will gain anything more than a headache by reading chapter 7. I read and re read this chapter several times before giving up and skipping to chapter 10 ("Surfaces") which seemed to be related. I got on better with chapter 10 and realised I had completely missed the point of chapter 7. Why the hell didn't he put chapter 10 first? Having said this chapter 10 is still very difficult and I got so frustrated with it that I went out and bought an introductory text on vector calculus.
After reading this (and this stuff is pretty challenging in spaces that are flat. No one is going to glide through this) and then doing a bit more research on the web I think I have got as far as seeing what Penrose is trying to explain in chapters 10 and 12 ("n-dimensional manifolds") .This of course is not the same thing as actually understanding it.
If I ever do understand it (unlikely) then chapter 19 ("The classical fields of Maxwell and Einstein", 29 pages in all) should be a walk in the park, I will have finished with classical physics for good and can start the difficult stuff!
Penrose clearly hopes that by explaining the essential concepts behind a subject and leaving out what (to him) are unnecessary computational details the reader will gain enough insight to grasp the essentials.
As I have said before the man is an optimist. Intelligent people can sometimes take intuitive short cuts with subjects they understand well. Beginners don't stand a chance.
If you enjoy Maths but don't have a degree in it ,are very well motivated to understand some of modern physics and have grown impatient with the usual popularisations by all means buy this book.
I don't honestly think most people will finish it. If however your curiosity is aroused and in defiance of common sense you become infected with Penrose's incurable optimism you will buy a lot more books, blunt a few pencils and severely test the patience of your family and friends. You might even learn something.
Alternatively you could always stain it with coffee, make spurious notes in the margin and display it prominently on your shelf where everyone will see it. I suspect this last motivation will sell a lot of copies!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best and toughest popular science book to date - Destined to be a classic!!, 8 Dec. 2007
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 .... from a cursory glance (genuinely constituting popular science, albeit a difficult read) or as serious academic study (taking you well into a post-graduate level appreciation of mathematics and theoretical physics). For the academic, it will accelerate your path to becoming a rounded theoretical physicist. Every school should own this book and every potential student of maths or theoretical physics should attempt to read it pre-university.

There is no room for dubious analogies in "The Road to Reality", which removes the scope for confusion. Apologies to those readers who like analogy, but there is no place for it in theoretical physics - Communicating an understanding of what the theory is really about, to a level that it seems intuitive to the reader, is the goal of this book.

It's my favorite book of all time. I can't recommend it more highly than that!!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Approach with caution, you are entering a (very) strange world ..., 17 Dec. 2008
By 
E. Clarke "Cambusken" (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I had great hopes of this book. Its title was certainly ambitious, but the review quotes on the cover seemed enouraging. Even more encouraging were Prof Penrose's breezy reassurances in his preface. The reasonably intelligent reader would get something out of it, no matter what his mathematical abilities - any anyway, you'll find you are more mathematical than you thought. Well, I had first year undergraduate Pure Mathematics, though some years ago, and I am keenly interested in his basic quest - to explain how mathematics can possibly relate to the real world - so I proudly puffed out my chest and ploughed on. It was soon apparent that you would need more advanced (and more recent) mathematics even to follow the prose of this book. There is a plethora of phrases such as "It is evident that...", "It is clear that ..." and "so we get X", preceding statements, which, despite re-readings (and vain appeals for help from more recent science graduates) remain utterly obscure to those without a prior insight into the subtlties of the areas he discusses. He skips along from complex numbers to their representation in Cartesian terms (I'm still with him at this point), through their polar representation (still there) and via a decent discourse on the exponential, until he suddenly flips into their logarithmic representation, whose derivation defeats me, and lots of consequences, which are even less clearly explained. On the way, he cheerily remarks on "intersting" asides which, while certainly interesting, are again mere fiats with no illumination (other than a suggestion, at the bottom of the page, that the interested reader prove it him/herself). The worrying thing is that all of this he anticipates will be fundamental to later expositions of physics etc. The plain fact of the matter is that book can only be of interest to naturally talented or highly trained mathematicians, and probably only to those who know the science areas anyway (as I guess most of the gushing reviewers on the cover were). Perhaps the topic is too amitious, but might there not be room for an edition in which any "it is evident that ..." is referenced to an explanation for which only A-level maths is required? I certainly hope so, for Prof Penrose has mapped out the structure of such a book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the Faint Hearted, 8 Aug. 2010
This review is from: The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (Paperback)
This book is definitely not for anyone who is not happy with mathematical fomulae. Even though Penrose says in the forward that one can read it without looking at the formulae, I don't think there would be much point in that, as the whole idea of the book is to explain the mathematical basis of modern physics. Right from the beginning one is introduced to Penrose's favourite subject: geometry (or geometric topology). In fact the book is chock full of geometric diagrams (in contrast to a quantum mechanics textbook I have which hardly has a one diagram every 20 pages )And general relativity being a theory based on geometry (of Riemann manifolds) is his favourite theory. In fact he is ecstatic about Einstein's General Relativity, nearly every time he mentions it qualifying it with superlatives. A typical sentence is:
'We shall also begin to witness the extraordinary power, beauty, and accuracy of Einstein's revolutionary theory.'

This seems to indicate the main mission of the book. To reverse the mainstream idea that general relativity, having been formulated without reference to the interactions of subatomic particles, is merely an approximation, just as classical mechanics, which treats bodies as homogeneous lumps, is an averaging out of the behaviour of billions of subatomic particles. Einstein spent his mature years fruitlessly trying to reformulate the fundamental laws of physics on geometric principles, and Penrose seems to share this goal. witness Chapter 30: 'Gravity's Role in Quantum state reduction'.
But anyway, I have only just dipped into this book, I will report back in a couple of years when I have gone through it properly.
For the moment I am giving it 4 stars as it is perhaps the only book like it: i.e. not a dry university course textbook going through one particular theory with mathematical rigour, but a book attempting to give an overview of modern physics explaining all the relevant theories and the maths behind them. But a mathematical background for the reader is definitely required.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 29 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe
The Road To Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Sir Roger Penrose (Paperback - 1 Jan. 2005)
£16.00
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews