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

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9780679454434: The Road to Reality : A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe

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

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Review:

If Albert Einstein were alive, he would have a copy of The Road to Reality on his bookshelf. So would Isaac Newton. This may be the most complete mathematical explanation of the universe yet published, and Roger Penrose richly deserves the accolades he will receive for it. That said, let us be perfectly clear: this is not an easy book to read. The number of people in the world who can understand everything in it could probably take a taxi together to Penrose's next lecture. Still, math-friendly readers looking for a substantial and possibly even thrillingly difficult intellectual experience should pick up a copy (carefully--it's over a thousand pages long and weighs nearly 4 pounds) and start at the beginning, where Penrose sets out his purpose: to describe "the search for the underlying principles that govern the behavior of our universe." Beginning with the deceptively simple geometry of Pythagoras and the Greeks, Penrose guides readers through the fundamentals--the incontrovertible bricks that hold up the fanciful mathematical structures of later chapters. From such theoretical delights as complex-number calculus, Riemann surfaces, and Clifford bundles, the tour takes us quickly on to the nature of spacetime. The bulk of the book is then devoted to quantum physics, cosmological theories (including Penrose's favored ideas about string theory and universal inflation), and what we know about how the universe is held together. For physicists, mathematicians, and advanced students, The Road to Reality is an essential field guide to the universe. For enthusiastic amateurs, the book is a project to tackle a bit at a time, one with unimaginable intellectual rewards. --Therese Littleton

From the Inside Flap:

This is arguably the most important work of science, aimed at the general reader, to be published in living memory.

This 1000-page guide to the universe aims to provide a comprehensive account of our present understanding of the physical universe, and the essentials of its underlying mathematical theory. It attempts to convey an overall understanding -- a feeling for the deep beauty and philosophical connotations of the subject, as well as of its intricate logical interconnections.

Clearly, a work of this nature is challenging, but no particular mathematical knowledge on the part of the reader is assumed, the early chapters providing the essential mathematical background for the physical theories described in the remainder of the book. There is also enough descriptive material to carry the less mathematically inclined reader through, as well as some 450-500, mostly hand-drawn, figures. The book provides a feeling for all the key issues and deep current controversies, and counters the common complaint that cutting-edge science is fundamentally inaccessible.

TOPICS COVERED:
? numbers and geometry in physics
? the ideas and magic of calculus
? notions of infinity
? relativity theory
? quantum mechanics
? particle physics
? cosmology
? the big bang
? black holes
? the second law of thermodynamics
? string and M theory
? loop quantum gravity
? twisters
? fashions in science

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