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
Praise for "The Road to Reality" by Roger Penrose "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" "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." --"London Times" "For physics fans, the high point of the year will undoubtedly be "The Road to Reality."" --"Guardian"
As it happens, I'm an inhabitant of mathematical Slowland (somewhere between the author's level 1 and level 2 on what is an exponential scale of mathematical knowledge), but this book's preface charmed me into attempting a pilgrimage down "The Road to Reality," even though--or perhaps because--it has lots and lots of math. What is the lure Sir Roger uses in his preface? A profoundly simple explanation of fractions! I've always longed to find a 'Summa Philosophiae Naturalis' that wove together all the physical and mathematical strands of my education. Maybe this will be that 'summa' after its contents finally sink in (it will take multiple readings.) If not, there was still plenty of shock and awe on Sir Roger's Road to Reality.
This author has the special gift of making his readers feel the beauty of scientific ideas through mathematics. Many of the books that have been published recently on the physical mechanisms of our Universe have been a little misty in this respect, probably for fear of losing readers.
Not so Penrose. After a benign preface and opening chapter, his 'Royal Road' plunges his readers head-first into hyperbolic geometry. If it weren't for the Escher woodcut and its subsequent transformations, I might not have plunged in after him. As it was, I almost sank out of sight upon encountering Contour Integration in chapter 7. It was a long, hard 400-page slog to Minkowskian Geometry (chapter 18), after which the heavy physics finally kicked in.
Extended side-trips into James R. Newman's classic "The World of Mathematics" were what saved me and kept me chugging through the first half of 'Reality.' I found I needed a bit of historical perspective on topics such as Riemann spheres, that Sir Roger necessarily had to explain in a formula and a paragraph--unless he wanted his book to bulk up into multiple volumes.
So I highly recommend a supplemental mathematical source such as Newman for the parts in Penrose where you WILL get stuck in the Slough of Despond. Yes, friends, unless you belong to the author's level 4 mathematical elite you will flounder, but throughout your struggle, beautiful fireworks will be going off over your head: a promise of the grandeur to come.
This book is full of glorious explosions, especially when the author is discussing a discrete, rather than real-numbered-base to physics: "Einstein, also, suggested, in his last published words, that a discretely based ('algebraic') theory might be the way forward for the future physics..."
Wait a minute! Does that mean I should flush my 23 semester-hours of calculus down the same toilet that swallowed up phlogiston and Piltdown Man?
Not at all. Penrose includes reams of calculus in this book, for those of you who like to twiddle around with infinitesimals. But do pay attention to the notion of a discrete reality. In the latter, 'physics' section of the book, Sir Roger refers back to discreteness when he discusses his twistor theory of Everything--combining relativity and quantum mechanics without the need for superstring theory.
This book is a thousand-page guide to physics' Grand Unified Theory as expressed by one of the world's most original thinkers. Pick it up and start down a road not usually taken, and I mean that literally as many cosmologists will argue that this author is way off the beaten path.