Best Books of 2016
BOSTON GLOBE * THE ATLANTIC
From the acclaimed bestselling author of The Information and Chaos comes this enthralling history of time travel—a concept that has preoccupied physicists and storytellers over the course of the last century.
James Gleick delivers a mind-bending exploration of time travel—from its origins in literature and science to its influence on our understanding of time itself. Gleick vividly explores physics, technology, philosophy, and art as each relates to time travel and tells the story of the concept's cultural evolutions—from H.G. Wells to Doctor Who, from Proust to Woody Allen. He takes a close look at the porous boundary between science fiction and modern physics, and, finally, delves into what it all means in our own moment in time—the world of the instantaneous, with its all-consuming present and vanishing future.
In a dazzling voyage through the concept of time, science chronicler Gleick (The Information) explains that, "like all words, time has boundaries, by which I don't mean hard and impenetrable shells but porous edges," challenging readers to consider the porousness of reality as depicted in philosophy, science, and literature. Beginning with an homage to H.G. Wells, whose 1895 novel The Time Machine influenced both writers and physicists, the book careens back and forth, "free to leap about in time." The popularity of Wells's story paved the way for a willingness to accept the paradoxes in the science of Einstein, Eddington, and Feynman, among others. Gleick explores the wealth of speculation that was set in motion when time became considered fluid. Can one go back in time and prevent one's own birth? Does time travel create "forks" in the universe with alternate events? What does it mean to be outside of time? Gleick quotes from scientists and writers who have wrestled with these questions, and he explores the way novels, short stories, films, and television programs have handled eddies in time (his suggested reading list is priceless). Deeply philosophical and full of quirky humor "The universe is like a river. It flows. (Or it doesn't, if you're Plato.)" Gleick's journey through the fourth dimension is a marvelous mind bender. Illus.