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

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  2,572 ratings  ·  114 reviews
The Road to Reality is the most important and ambitious work of science for a generation. It provides nothing less than a comprehensive account of the physical universe and the essentials of its underlying mathematical theory. It assumes no particular specialist knowledge on the part of the reader, so that, for example, the early chapters give us the vital mathematical bac...more
Paperback, 1136 pages
Published February 2nd 2006 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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Sep 05, 2011 Manny rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: People who seriously want to understand physics better
Recommended to Manny by: Nick Black
Many of my all-time favourite books make the list because they show you what it's like to be inside the mind of an extraordinary person. While you're reading them, Churchill's History of the Second World War and Yourcenar's Mémoires d'Hadrien let you be a great statesman at a pivotal moment in history. Simone de Beauvoir's autobiography, more than any other book I know, gives you the feeling of being a major literary figure. Polugayevsky's Grandmaster Preparation, which many chessplayers treat a...more
Dave Langford, SF&F critic and reviewer, in his long-since defunct column for White Dwarf magazine, once said that, "There is a tendency to over-praise big books simply because one has got through them." I agree that this tendency exists but note that Langford gave no reason for it. I think the reason is more or less macho intellectual pride; look at me! I read this honking great saga! It must be great or I'd have to admit wasting my time! And I need to show off my intellectual credentials!...more
Nick Black
Penrose came to GT and gave an open lecture on cosmic parameters and cosmological arguments from the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (chapter 27 in this book, one of the most ambitious and impressive -- if incomplete, a bit uneven, and just as taxing as you've heard -- catechisms I've ever read), and a closed lecture on twistor theory (chapter 33), and signed my copy! w00t! I shook Sir Roger's hand as trillions of neutrinos passed through us both, completely undetected, our entangled R-type state evol...more
Cassandra Silva
Penrose, Penrose, Penrose. Oh how I LONG to know thee. I am becoming minorly obsessed with you and your work. I am pacing for crying out loud. I am running myself in circles. Opening, closing, referencing, coming back, straining my eyes as if that will make me see the world that you do. Why do you elude me so? Why does your tongue speak as if attached to the left temporal lobe itself? I catch glimpses of this reality you see. I feel myself drawn to it in longing for truth and understanding. For...more
this book RULES. it is a sort of primer on the mathematics required to really understand quantum physics. of course, that is a pretty huge pile of stuff, and this is a damn huge book. it moves faaast too: the entire theoretical foundations of single-variable calculus takes up one chapter. the reader is rapidly pulled through pretty heavy cram sessions in multivariable calculus, algebraic topology, real analysis... everything you need! and yet, it does not feel at all dense, because roger penrose...more
So we had a physicist around to dinner the other day and thrust this at him. I can't call T---- by his real name, let's just say he rhymes with a dip made with chickpeas and tahini. The reason I can't call him by his real name is that he works at a place that starts with C and rhymes with a complete lack of humour. He likes his job, I don't want to get him sacked for reading Penrose.

He flicks through it and the first thing I note is that physicists take about 5 nanoseconds to read what it takes...more
Amazing. While I can not exactly call Road to Reality a popularization of general relativity and quantum theory, it is a peerless introduction to and review of those topics. I have a PhD in mathematics, and studied physics and math as an undergraduate, and there was plenty for me to learn from this book. There are very few people in the world who would not learn much from reading it.

Many years ago, I read Penrose's Emporer's New Mind which was good as far as it went, but earned my derision with...more
Nov 15, 2009 DJ marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: priority, physics
I have a suspicion that Penrose hasn't spoken to a undergraduate in 30 years. His notion of "introductory material" is not just wrong, its downright strange.

The famed mathematician devotes several pages to discussing the addition of fractions then breezes through holomorphic functions and Reimann spheres.

I'll return to this book in a year or two when I have the mathematical background to qualify as a "non-mathematician."
This book is too sprawling to wait and review all at once at the end, so I've decided to do it little by little as I go along.

I thought the prologue sucked, but immediately after that it became deeply fascinating, so don't get discouraged. I guess I should say why I hated it, though. It seemed as though he was judging former times and societies through a "presentist" lens, as though all people have always and only been scientists since the start of time, only they were really bad at it back then...more
A feast for any physicist, or anyone who wants to learn the depth and beauty of physics, etc. as we know it. Not dumbed down at all. Throws every subject imaginable at you. If you can understand it, this book is truly amazing.

EDIT: I have recently learned in a conversation at uni that there are some controversies with the book and orthodox physics, most notably in the areas of string theory, Penrose's idea of twistors and the idea of more than 4 dimensions. However - considering how much else th...more
Yasiru (Don't register a new account at all- grievances concerning censorship are now censored!)
As accurate a title as can be for this tremendously ambitious behemoth. I very much enjoyed the masterful laying of a mathematical framework when first I came across it (the first dozen or so chapters if memory serves; hence the rating, as well as for the aforementioned ambition in the task- I think this is a right way to go, though popular expositors seldom venture down this route), as Penrose does it so efficiently (and naturally too, so that the layman wouldn't shove it aside in disgust after...more
Simone Scardapane
Oct 16, 2012 Simone Scardapane marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scientific
I casi sono due: o possedete un dottorato in Fisica (o in Matematica), nel qual caso potreste anche apprezzare questo mastodontico libro, oppure non possedete almeno uno dei suddetti dottorati, nel qual caso, rassegnatevi: leggerlo sarà la stessa cosa che leggere un libro scritto in cirillico (sempre che non sappiate il cirillico, é chiaro).

L'inizio, ad essere sinceri, fa ben sperare: Penrose incoraggia il lettore, affermando che necessita solo di una minima base matematica e di un po' di buona...more
Penrose examines the turn modern theoretical physics has taken in pursuit of multi-dimensional mathematical models to develop a unified model of the sub-atomic realm. His argument is not entirely mathematical, though he does have good arguments against unnecessary complexity from the point of view of the straightforward progress made by theoretical physics in discovering the mathematical elegance of relationships among various observed constants. His most profound argument against String Theory...more
Feb 09, 2009 Michael rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Engineers, Teachers & Weird Guys
Recommended to Michael by: Some weird guy at the gym.
I desperately want to make it through this book. I might be crazy. I think part of my fascination with finishing it is to compensate for not finishing engineering school. I can tell you this... It would be a lot easier to read if I had attained my degree (and actually learned the material along the way). Nonetheless, this book opens in the most interesting and captivating fashion, which says a lot about a book that works to explain the universe by walking through the history of mathematics. A co...more
This excellent, definitive work is not for the faint of heart of the weak of mathematics. You'll have finished most of the material for an undergraduate degree in math by the time you've worked your way through this: the first half of the book starts with Pythagorean number theory, complex number calculus, Riemann surfaces, Fourier decomposition, n-dimensional manifolds, Lie symmetry groups, and builds out from there. However, rich fruit is reaped in the second half of the book, which delves dee...more
Rajesh Chepuri
Aug 21, 2007 Rajesh Chepuri rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: physics: link to math, relativity, quantum mechanics
This is a great book. I have finished reading the first part i.e, math part of the book. It opened lot of windows for me in the world of mathematics. Though a computer graduate, I have lot of interest in physics. I have read lot of material on relativity but none gave me the the insight to it like this book. Before this book, I had no knowledge of non-eucildean geometry and its importance to physics. But now I know lot about Riemann and other great people's contribution.

The graphical presentatio...more
Deciphering the laws of physics to create universal reality

This is an exhaustive review of the laws of physics as related to physical reality with significant emphasis on the mathematical component. The author is an outstanding mathematical physicist of our times, and in this book of 1100 pages, he describes the concept of space, time, and matter (energy) in terms of classical physics, quantum physics, string theory and its derivatives.

In physics, the behavior of objects is understood in terms...more
Dec 05, 2011 Carlo marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics, astronomy
This book is way above my head. I'm gonna shelve it for a while and probably be back to it after some more readings in math. It is certainly not a layman's book, especially if you want to really understand the implications of Penrose's ideas. I have an engineering degree, and yet, from the second chapter on, I was sweating!
One of the best mathematically complete but general and interesting physics books by one of the greatest of the field.
John Haverkamp
75% of this book is above my head mathematically. But that's ok, because my arithmetic truncates at the 10 grade in 1987, so that's to be expected. What matter's is Mr. Penrose's clear presentation of advanced topics in physics, starting with the theoretical math which underlies them. He shows how the math often predates and thus opens the way for new physical theories. It is really refreshing how forthcoming the author is when presenting theories he either agrees or disagree with; always endeav...more

This is a might be the best *children* book of our generation. Bear
with me. My favorite book when I was small was a some 1000 pages thick
encyclopedia of astronomy - and I am sure I am not the only who was
fascinated and inspired by a similarly mesmerizing and daunting
book. Full of strange pictures and even stranger ideas. Penrose's book
could be such a book for our kids. Do buy and keep it within easy
reach. Who knows?

LESS IMPORTANTLY (despite attempt still not really a factual rev...more
This is an audacious book, and a daunting read. Despite the months I spent working my way through it, I feel I barely scratched the surface, and I'm ill-equipped to really review it. A few random thoughts follow.

The book takes the refreshing (and unpopular amongst most pop-science books) view that the physics can't really be discussed without developing the necessary mathematical foundations, and it spends quite a lot of time introducing those mathematical subjects. That being said, it is probab...more
F Avery
By his own admission in the preface, this is Penrose' attempt to popularize the current thinking in theoretical physics, including quantum mechanics, relativity, and unification theories such as string theories and quantum gravity. In the introduction he says (paraphrased) that he has intentionally gone for the more mathematical route, in spite of advice to the contrary, but he hopes that those without a mathematical bent can just skip the equations and get the gist of the concepts anyway.
With d...more
There are three great things about this book (apart from the subject itself, which is the reason that I read it in the first place); the scope, the structure, and the level of detail.

The scope is simply all modern fundamental physics, which is impressive in itself. The structure is different from most other popular science books in that the first third of the book is almost entirely pure mathematics, covering most of the theory that is needed to understand the actual physics; basic definitions o...more
Matt Heavner
This is quite a challenging read -- but definitely worth the effort! The first half is primarily "math" while the second half is "physics." Penrose did an amazing job of writing a guidebook to a great deal of the breadth of both of these fields. I felt there were some uneven sections -- I remember a great deal of discussion on Fourier transforms and thinking that if a whole section of discussion is needed there, how will the reader keep up through differential topology, twistor theory, diagramma...more
Mark Johnson
When the world was younger and more innocent - well, maybe not so innocent - cultured men and women were expected to be conversant with all of the latest ideas, not only in fashion, politics and literature, but also in the realms of philosophy and the sciences. I am referring to the era when Emilie du Chatelet provided the first translation of Newton's Principia into French, when she and her erstwhile husband Voltaire collaborated on physics and chemistry experiments, and when it would have been...more
Leo Walsh
Nov 10, 2009 Leo Walsh rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Scientific Readers w/ Math Skills
How Would a Physicist Think About the Quantum World?

I usually fly through books, and have no problem understanding them. Not this one. Over a year after I first cracked it, I am finally done. I am amazed by the rigor of this work. In fact, I can say that I “sort of” understand the major concepts of quantum mechanics as a physicist would.

Most popularizations of quantum physics are simplifications, ignoring the math. More insidious, the concepts of quantum mechanics are used to “justify” some scie...more
Unnikrishnan Rajan
One of the most amazing books I ever read. I have to admit I didn't understand everything, not even 10% of it. However, that doesn't prevent me from acknowledging a colossal achievement. Trying to describe the only meaningful reality to me in about 1000 pages. All the mathematics behind the physical world, all the beauty of it, has been meticulously reconstructed step by step, by one of the most eminent physics/mathematics author of the present generation. The first few chapters lay out the nece...more
Brandon Byrne
Wow, this book covers so much material I don't even know where to start. Nor am I exactly qualified to review a few of the more advanced topics, but I haven't finished the thing yet, so I'm working on it. This is not a textbook per se, and it reads much more smoothly and purposefully than a boring theorem, proof type structure. Just an fyi though, the first third or so is essentially a survey/seminar on modern math. It begins benignly with philosophy, euclidean geometry, and intro to hyperbolic...more
Bo Chen
Nov 17, 2008 Bo Chen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Everyone who is not afraid of a headache/migraine
This is a very comprehensive work by Penrose. It is also a very difficult book for me to read. I definitely rate it five stars for the reason that there are no other books of its kind or in its class that I know of. This is a must read for all who are interested in TOE.

Having said that for the not so mathematically inclined (myself included) I don't know what's more ironic, the fact that Penrose "Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe" is most definitely not by any means...more
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Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS is an English mathematical physicist and Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College. He has received a number of prizes and awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the universe. He is renow...more
More about Roger Penrose...
The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Popular Science) Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness Subtle is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe The Large, the Small and the Human Mind (Canto)

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“We have a closed circle of consistency here: the laws of physics produce complex systems, and these complex systems lead to consciousness, which then produces mathematics, which can then encode in a succinct and inspiring way the very underlying laws of physics that gave rise to it.” 13 likes
“No doubt there are some who, when confronted with a line of mathematical symbols, however simply presented, can only see the face of a stern parent or teacher who tried to force into them a non-comprehending parrot-like apparent competence--a duty and a duty alone--and no hint of magic or beauty of the subject might be allowed to come through.” 4 likes
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