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Science Books

August 5, 2005

The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe
by Roger Penrose (2005)
ISBN: 0679454438

If anyone could cram the universe - complete with all of its beauty, subtlety and complexities - into a single book, it would be Roger Penrose, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University. The now legendary Penrose, author of The Emperor's New Mind, Shadows of the Mind and The Nature of Space and Time, strips the universe back to its bare mathematical bones, providing the reader with insights into an otherwise impenetrable world. There is no getting around the fact that The Road to Reality is a challenging book that will appeal to advanced readers in mathematics. "The understanding that we have of the principles that actually underlie the behaviour of our physical world indeed depends upon some appreciation of its mathematics," says Penrose. Fortunately, Penrose's ability to explain complex and detailed theories does allow the general reader to enjoy the marvels of our universe. As well as being the greatest story ever told, The Road to Reality is an educative book that offers a helping hand to those who, shall we say, consider themselves to be numerically challenged. "I believe that there are many out there who have the capacity to catch some glimpse of a wonderful world that I believe must be, to a significant degree, genuinely accessible to them," offered Penrose. For those who do persevere with the initial seminar-like chapters, the rewards are many. Later chapters on quantum physics, cosmological theories and virtually any topic that shows how the universe hangs together make for absolutely fascinating reading. At over one thousand pages long, The Road to Reality reflects Penrose's voracious appetite for all things mathematical, and his intention is that we all share his enthusiasm. The Road to Reality is an indispensable tome that could sit comfortably on the shelves of mathematicians, physicists and the general reader alike.

Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein
by Abraham Pais (2005)
ISBN: 0192806726

This year has been appointed the "World Year of Physics" to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. One could hardly think of a better way to celebrate such an occasion than by reading one of the most outstanding books to date on Einstein's life and work. Subtle is the Lord has to be one of biographer Abraham Pais' most outstanding achievements. Pais, a Dutch born physicist and personal assistant to Niels Bohr, knew the great man for the last nine years of his life and also had access to over 50,000 pages of Einstein's letters and science papers to recreate a truly fascinating life. Pais' assistant, to help him with the rather daunting task of sifting through the entire Einstein Archives, was none other than Einstein's former private secretary, Helen Dukas. There will always be books about Einstein and the Theory of Relativity, but the Dukas-Pais team is unlikely to be topped. The duo's closeness to Einstein and his work provide unprecedented context and insight to this historic period in science. They compare the discoveries of quantum theory in 1900 and special relativity in 1905, for example. "The assimilation of special relativity was a relatively fast and easy process. When special relativity appeared, it was at once 'all there.' There never was an 'old' theory of relativity." By contrast, he continues, "the 'old' quantum theory progressed by unprincipled - but tasteful - invention and application of ad hoc rules rather than by a systematic investigation of the implications of a set of axioms." This newly released Oxford University Press edition of Subtle is the Lord is sure to bring great enjoyment to anyone interested in Einstein's extraordinary life.

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