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Time Travel: A History

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From the acclaimed author of The Information and Chaos, a mind-bending exploration of time travel: its subversive origins, its evolution in literature and science, and its influence on our understanding of time itself. Gleick's story begins at the turn of the twentieth century with the young H. G. Wells writing and rewriting the fantastic tale that became his first book, a From the acclaimed author of The Information and Chaos, a mind-bending exploration of time travel: its subversive origins, its evolution in literature and science, and its influence on our understanding of time itself. Gleick's story begins at the turn of the twentieth century with the young H. G. Wells writing and rewriting the fantastic tale that became his first book, an international sensation, The Time Machine. A host of forces were converging to transmute the human understanding of time, some philosophical and some technological the electric telegraph, the steam railroad, the discovery of buried civilizations, and the perfection of clocks. Gleick tracks the evolution of time travel as an idea in the culture from Marcel Proust to Doctor Who, from Woody Allen to Jorge Luis Borges. He explores the inevitable looping paradoxes and examines the porous boundary between pulp fiction and modern physics. Finally, he delves into a temporal shift that is unsettling our own moment: the instantaneous wired world, with its all-consuming present and vanishing future.


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From the acclaimed author of The Information and Chaos, a mind-bending exploration of time travel: its subversive origins, its evolution in literature and science, and its influence on our understanding of time itself. Gleick's story begins at the turn of the twentieth century with the young H. G. Wells writing and rewriting the fantastic tale that became his first book, a From the acclaimed author of The Information and Chaos, a mind-bending exploration of time travel: its subversive origins, its evolution in literature and science, and its influence on our understanding of time itself. Gleick's story begins at the turn of the twentieth century with the young H. G. Wells writing and rewriting the fantastic tale that became his first book, an international sensation, The Time Machine. A host of forces were converging to transmute the human understanding of time, some philosophical and some technological the electric telegraph, the steam railroad, the discovery of buried civilizations, and the perfection of clocks. Gleick tracks the evolution of time travel as an idea in the culture from Marcel Proust to Doctor Who, from Woody Allen to Jorge Luis Borges. He explores the inevitable looping paradoxes and examines the porous boundary between pulp fiction and modern physics. Finally, he delves into a temporal shift that is unsettling our own moment: the instantaneous wired world, with its all-consuming present and vanishing future.

30 review for Time Travel: A History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Bagai

    A disappointment, largely because I so love Gleick's earlier works (Chaos: Making a New Science, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood in particular are magnificent), and also because I was (mis)led to expect an incisive and exacting comparison of the way Time Travel has been used in literature and movies -- a typography showing how TT mechanics differ between the movies Primer and Looper. There is a hint of this. But it is so fleeting, in A disappointment, largely because I so love Gleick's earlier works (Chaos: Making a New Science, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood in particular are magnificent), and also because I was (mis)led to expect an incisive and exacting comparison of the way Time Travel has been used in literature and movies -- a typography showing how TT mechanics differ between the movies Primer and Looper. There is a hint of this. But it is so fleeting, in the face of page after page on the cultural history of time capsules, or how various religions consider "eternity." I kept skimming to get to the good stuff, but skimmed my way to the end of the book. Clearly I had the wrong book in mind, which is largely my fault, and only partially the fault of the ad campaign. But I can't shake the feeling that Gleick threw this together on assignment, taking a breather after the profundity of The Information. I wanted an equally profound experience here -- but that experience will have to come from more of a nerd and less of a science historian.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Why is it so difficult—so degradingly difficult—to bring the notion of Time into mental focus and keep it there for inspection? What an effort, what fumbling, what irritating fatigue! —Vladimir Nabokov (1969) Time is a funny thing, everyone knows what it is and no one can (easily) explain it. But that doesn't stop Gleick from taking a crack at it. Marshaling the collective resources of literature, science, philosophy, cultural anthropology, and religion he walks us down the many side streets Why is it so difficult—so degradingly difficult—to bring the notion of Time into mental focus and keep it there for inspection? What an effort, what fumbling, what irritating fatigue! —Vladimir Nabokov (1969) Time is a funny thing, everyone knows what it is and no one can (easily) explain it. But that doesn't stop Gleick from taking a crack at it. Marshaling the collective resources of literature, science, philosophy, cultural anthropology, and religion he walks us down the many side streets and cul-de-sacs of this essential and mysterious...thing. While ostensibly about Time Travel, this book is a much more comprehensive review of Time in general. He does, however, start off with THE time travel classis: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, and puts it in its fascinating historical context: Nowadays we voyage through time so easily and so well, in our dreams and in our art. Time travel feels like an ancient tradition, rooted in old mythologies, old as gods and dragons. It isn’t. Though the ancients imagined immortality and rebirth and lands of the dead time machines were beyond their ken. Time travel is a fantasy of the modern era. When Wells in his lamp-lit room imagined a time machine, he also invented a new mode of thought. Strange to think such a pervasive idea in modern culture is so relatively young. Gleick walks the reader through some other noteworthy time travel stories and speaks about its place in the literary and popular culture landscape. Then he gets to the interesting stuff: just what is this time we are traveling though and what does it even mean to time travel. As The Doctor put it: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually — from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint — it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly... timey-wimey... stuff." It is a difficult concept to grasp because it is so fundamental to the human experience. Physics might offer some keys but its conception of time may no job with how we experience it: Perceiving all the present, an omniscient observer would likewise perceive all the past and all the inevitable future at the same time. Indeed, present and past and future would be without meaning to such an observer: he would always perceive exactly the same thing. He would see, as it were, a Rigid Universe filling space and time—a Universe in which things were always the same. That, itself, leads into the question of free will and the nature of God: For God outside of time, God in eternity, time does not pass; events do not occur step by step; cause and effect are meaningless. He is not one-thing-after-another, but all-at-once. His “now” encompasses all time. Creation is a tapestry, or an Einsteinian block universe. Either way, one might believe that God sees it entire. For Him, the story does not have a beginning, middle, and end. But if you believe in an interventionist god, what does that leave for him to do? A changeless being is hard for us mortals to imagine. Does he act? Does he even think? Without sequential time, thought—a process—is hard to imagine. Consciousness requires time, it seems. It requires being in time. Heavy stuff, let me tell you. Gleick also delves into the cultural aspects of time and offers fascinating contrasts to how different cultures grapple with this concept: The language forces this upon us. Who was the first person to say that time “passes” or time “flows”? We are seldom conscious of the effect of language on our choice of metaphors, the effect of our metaphors on our sense of reality. Usually we give the words no thought at all. When we do, we may well wonder what we’re really saying... Other cultures have different geometries. Aymara speakers, in the Andes, point forward (where they can see) when talking about the past and gesture behind their backs when talking about the future... The cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky, a student of spatiotemporal metaphors and conceptual schemas, notes that some Australian aboriginal communities orient themselves by cardinal direction (north, south, east, west) rather than relative direction (left, right) and think of time as running east to west. (They have a strongly developed sense of direction, compared to more urban and indoor cultures.) Mandarin speakers often use vertical metaphors for time: 上 (shàng) means both above and earlier; 下 (xià) means below and next. The history and study of time is both mind bending, confusing, and fascinating. We take so much for granted when it comes to time, but the way to influences us, both in the physical sense and in the cultural sense, is rather neat. Gleick does a very good job of synthesizing these disparate ideas into a comprehensible set of chapters while providing a near overwhelming set of quotes and sources to augment the discussion. While it can get a bit dry at times, the exploration of time and time travel is as rewarding as it is profound.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    This was disappointing. Gleick's previous book, The Information, is one of the very few books I can actually say changed my view of the world, with its crystal clear explanations of diverse scientific and mathematical topics woven together into a compelling scientific whole. Time Travel, unfortunately, is neither clear nor coherent. In this case, Gleick weaves his way between the cultural history, scientific development, and philosophy of time. However, the book works neither as literary critici This was disappointing. Gleick's previous book, The Information, is one of the very few books I can actually say changed my view of the world, with its crystal clear explanations of diverse scientific and mathematical topics woven together into a compelling scientific whole. Time Travel, unfortunately, is neither clear nor coherent. In this case, Gleick weaves his way between the cultural history, scientific development, and philosophy of time. However, the book works neither as literary criticism nor as scientific explainer, with the cultural sections mostly being long, meandering plot summaries, and the scientific sections glossing over complex scientific concepts with only the most cursory attempt at making things understandable (if I didn't already have a degree in physics, I'm pretty sure I would just be confused by the strangely off-hand references to how the time weirdnesses in relativity and quantum mechanics work). The prose is strangely florid as well, and many of the chapters fail to gel into coherent themes, feeling more meandering than enlightening. There are some worthwhile parts: the chapter on time paradoxes in particular feels tighter and more immediately engaging than the rest of the book. Ultimately this book left me looking for a scientific or thematic clarity which never emerged.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tom Quinn

    I remember distinctly when my interest in time travel arose. I'd seen it in movies and Saturday morning cartoons before and played a little "back to the time of the dinosaurs" make-believe with the neighborhood kids already, but it wasn't until fourth grade that I had the legitimate thought: I should have done something differently. I wanted to go back and change one specific thing, one bad decision. Nevermind exactly what I did, but it resulted in a lot of time spent in my principal's office an I remember distinctly when my interest in time travel arose. I'd seen it in movies and Saturday morning cartoons before and played a little "back to the time of the dinosaurs" make-believe with the neighborhood kids already, but it wasn't until fourth grade that I had the legitimate thought: I should have done something differently. I wanted to go back and change one specific thing, one bad decision. Nevermind exactly what I did, but it resulted in a lot of time spent in my principal's office and a recurring weekly appointment with the school psychologist. If I'd had the means, I would have gone back in a heartbeat to not do what I'd done. My time travel fantasies only increased throughout high school. What if I'd asked out so-and-so? What if I'd gone to that cast get-together after the play? And then after college, disillusioned with my young adult life, things ramped up exponentially. What if I'd gone to a different school? What if I'd majored in some other subject? What if I'd dumped the girl who became my first wife before things got really bad? What if, what if, what if? Thankfully nowadays my overactive, overthinking mind has mostly settled all these "what ifs" and I'm content to stay in the here and now, looking backward on what has come before as productive character building. I rarely consider time travel for any prolonged daydreaming, trading those wistful fantasies of youth for the practical, long-term, day-by-day incremental grown-up version: taking steps now to build towards what will hopefully be a better future, doing my best daily to not screw up my kids, and saving for what I hope will eventually be a comfortable retirement. But those "what if" games are powerful stuff. That's got to be why time travel has a storied place in literature and film, and remains a fruitful topic of philosophy; it allows us to ask some fascinating questions. What is the self? If I were to go back and meet myself as a child, could I rewrite my personhood? What is free will? If I haven't met my future self so far, does that mean I will never go back even if time travel were to be invented someday? How is it that I can think paradoxically or conceive of impossible things in the first place? Enter James Gleick, to provide a walking tour of sorts through the history of time travel (and Time in general) in Western culture. The book is semi-serious and partly playful, and Gleick writes with a flair for the dramatic. He threads us through some of Physics' and Philosophy's shared minefields (what exactly IS time? How fast does it go? When is now? If there is a god, does he exist in time, outside of time, or somehow both at once?) and invites us to peer briefly into the depths of logical rabbit holes without descending too deeply ourselves. He is a cheeky rascal of a tour guide, though, and makes the trip plenty of fun, detours into the weeds notwithstanding. Along the way he stops to examine topics from the silly to the sublime, including the time capsule craze of the 1900s and everybody's obsession with killing Hitler. 4.5 stars out of 5. Probably a 3 or 4 for the content, which focuses a lot less on pop culture and a lot more on theoretical physics than expected, but certainly a 5 for the style. I appreciate how Gleick never talks down or patronizes with oversimplification or spoon-feeding, but instead assumes a strong background from the reader and a quick mind that's able to keep up with his presentation. But he does a lot of excessive summarizing of other works of literature, especially in later chapters, and I'd rather hear more of his own intriguing analysis than the primary sources he mines.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David Rubenstein

    This book is really about the history of the idea of time travel. James Gleick traces the history of the idea of time travel, through literature and films. The earliest stories about time travel paved the way, for they first exposed people to the whole concept. Later stories expanded on the concept, showing the possibility for paradoxes. Gleick also explores the concept of time; it is actually rather difficult to define in a non-circular manner. What is time? This becomes a rather philosophical This book is really about the history of the idea of time travel. James Gleick traces the history of the idea of time travel, through literature and films. The earliest stories about time travel paved the way, for they first exposed people to the whole concept. Later stories expanded on the concept, showing the possibility for paradoxes. Gleick also explores the concept of time; it is actually rather difficult to define in a non-circular manner. What is time? This becomes a rather philosophical discussion. While I loved James Gleick's earlier books, this one just didn't seem to engage me. Much of the book simply recounted the plots of various books and films, and that didn't seem very interesting; if I had read the book or seen the movie, then the recap was not needed. If I hadn't read the book, then what is the point? And, the philosophical parts of the book just didn't keep my interest.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Santiago Ortiz

    Beautifully written essay, a flow of thought exuberant in clever ideas and witt quotes (“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”). It's not really a book about time travel, but a book about time, a book that travels time –through history, philosophy, physics, storytelling, logic. Beautifully written essay, a flow of thought exuberant in clever ideas and witt quotes (“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”). It's not really a book about time travel, but a book about time, a book that travels time –through history, philosophy, physics, storytelling, logic.

  7. 5 out of 5

    jeremy

    a cultural, scientific, and literary history of time travel, james gleick's new book is expansive, ever-engaging, and almost endlessly fascinating. tracing the origins of time travel (from conception to pop culture plot point), gleick enthusiastically chronicles all things time travel-related (including physics, technology, paradox, literature, film, philosophy, culture, futurism, and much more). time travel muses also on the nature of time and our very human relationship to it, exploring, too, a cultural, scientific, and literary history of time travel, james gleick's new book is expansive, ever-engaging, and almost endlessly fascinating. tracing the origins of time travel (from conception to pop culture plot point), gleick enthusiastically chronicles all things time travel-related (including physics, technology, paradox, literature, film, philosophy, culture, futurism, and much more). time travel muses also on the nature of time and our very human relationship to it, exploring, too, the hyperconnected age that is our 21st century reality. gleick writes with erudition, eagerness, and a palpable joy and inquisitiveness. whether interested in science, history, pop culture, books, or the incomprehensible nature of time itself, time travel appeals on so many levels, satisfying readerly intrigues with relative ease and wonder-inducing observations. (quite nearly a 5-star outing). the universe rigid is a prison. only the time traveller can call himself free.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jersy

    This book is less about the history of time travel in fiction and more about the concept of time in mostly the 19th and 20th century : how it used to be perceived and the philosophical and scientific theories around it. I adored about the first third of the book, because it focused very much on the developements that caused the idea of time travel and the discussions this idea sparked. There was a lot of information I found to be fascinating and even mindblowing in relation to history and the sci This book is less about the history of time travel in fiction and more about the concept of time in mostly the 19th and 20th century : how it used to be perceived and the philosophical and scientific theories around it. I adored about the first third of the book, because it focused very much on the developements that caused the idea of time travel and the discussions this idea sparked. There was a lot of information I found to be fascinating and even mindblowing in relation to history and the science fiction genre. However, afterwards there was so much time dedicated to scientific time theories that felt dragging and repetitive after a while, and, while I wasn't entirely disinterested, it wasn't what I read the book for. Towards the end, it does pick up the topic of time travel media again, going into examples and paradoxes, I had just expected that the whole book was more focused on that. I thought it would discuss changes and differences in fiction dealing with time travel and what cultural and maybe scientific developments led to them, but instead it used the concept of time travel as an excuse to discuss "what is time?". I think this is a book interesting for people that are into the history of ideas, science and philosophy, and less for readers that want to learn about media or literature history. I wish I've known that, for I was primarily reading this as inspiration for what time travel books ro read next. Still, I learned a lot of fascinating stuff, the appendix lists a lot of works I can get into and it was an enjoyable read. If the first third wasn't as brilliant I wouldn't rate it as highly, though, since the majority of the book felt more like a 3 star read for me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Vipassana

    An interesting history on the idea of time travel and so, Time as well. What Gleick seems to suggest is that the idea of time travel has caused us to think about time with much more rigour. While, this history is intriguing, I couldn't help but think of a few other writers who could have tackled this subject better. His flow from one concept to the other seems disjointed at times. However, the ideas here about time in science, fiction and philosophy are a treat to read. An interesting history on the idea of time travel and so, Time as well. What Gleick seems to suggest is that the idea of time travel has caused us to think about time with much more rigour. While, this history is intriguing, I couldn't help but think of a few other writers who could have tackled this subject better. His flow from one concept to the other seems disjointed at times. However, the ideas here about time in science, fiction and philosophy are a treat to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lemar

    “Literature creates its own time, it mimics time” says James Gleick who uses the subject of time travel in literature as a jumping off point for a deep and fascinating examination of Time. He delves equally into physics, philosophy and literature to present a refreshing perspective that respects our common experience of time as something very real and not theoretical. Thought provoking quotations abound: “Time is a phantasm of motion” - Thomas Hobbes, and time is “a moving image of eternity” - P “Literature creates its own time, it mimics time” says James Gleick who uses the subject of time travel in literature as a jumping off point for a deep and fascinating examination of Time. He delves equally into physics, philosophy and literature to present a refreshing perspective that respects our common experience of time as something very real and not theoretical. Thought provoking quotations abound: “Time is a phantasm of motion” - Thomas Hobbes, and time is “a moving image of eternity” - Plato. Gleick challenges accepted conclusions about space-time. Are space and time inseparable? He asks great questions and is unafraid to contribute his own conclusions. This book prompted many excursions through great internet rabbit holes (always a looming temptation for me!) that began with references to a figures cited by this incredibly interesting and well read author. For example I had never heard of Robert Hooke who turns out to have been a polymath who had the bad luck to be an enemy of Isaac Newton who was not too busy to use his considerable standing to Hooke’s reputation. I was hoping for, and found, s lot of obscure and promising science fiction and science books in the text and in a Further Reading section. Gleick is funny and irreverent, a terrific guide who has found a perfect vantage point from which to examine our present.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nooilforpacifists

    Perhaps I read too much science fiction growing up, especially time travel stories. Perhaps I thought about the theories and paradoxes over-much on my own: see my review of "Dark Matter". It's true, I forgot to use, as the classic example of the "impossibly theory", Adolf Hitler--half the mediocre time travel stories try (unsuccessfully) to kill Hitler. Stephen Fry's (awful) "Making History" is one such; it's also been done under the "multiple universes" theory, most notably in Alfred Bester's t Perhaps I read too much science fiction growing up, especially time travel stories. Perhaps I thought about the theories and paradoxes over-much on my own: see my review of "Dark Matter". It's true, I forgot to use, as the classic example of the "impossibly theory", Adolf Hitler--half the mediocre time travel stories try (unsuccessfully) to kill Hitler. Stephen Fry's (awful) "Making History" is one such; it's also been done under the "multiple universes" theory, most notably in Alfred Bester's tremendous short story "The Man Who Murdered Mohammed" (which I should have mentioned in the "Dark Matter" review) as a classic of the latter genre. And one quote (from a Rivka Galchen story) sums up impossibly nicely: "Science fiction writers have arrived at analogous solutions to the grandfather paradox: murderous grandchildren are inevitably stopped by something--faulty pistols, slippery banana peels, their own consciences--before the impossible deed can be carried out." The sole epiphany--the only thing I hadn't thought of before--arrives at the end of the book: "Why do we need time travel? The answers come down to one: To elude death." Good point. But especially given Gleick's other excellent work, hardly worth a 313 page slog.

  12. 4 out of 5

    muthuvel

    A verbose history of Time Travel in Science Fiction (almost 85℅) and in culture. Book concentrates mostly on the perceptions of sci-fi authors on time, it's nature and possibility of Time travel, and the reality. Starting from H.G Wells, the book covers many works of authors like Asimov, Heinlein, Proust and many more. Also some glimpses on few physicists' and mathematicians' approach on paradoxes due time travel and possibilities of universes. Enjoyable at some level but not overwhelming. Most of A verbose history of Time Travel in Science Fiction (almost 85℅) and in culture. Book concentrates mostly on the perceptions of sci-fi authors on time, it's nature and possibility of Time travel, and the reality. Starting from H.G Wells, the book covers many works of authors like Asimov, Heinlein, Proust and many more. Also some glimpses on few physicists' and mathematicians' approach on paradoxes due time travel and possibilities of universes. Enjoyable at some level but not overwhelming. Most of the sci-fi works described in this anthology turned out to be spoilers for me as I planned to read some of those works prior to this. On the brighter side, have got some suggestions on short stories from the author's indefatigable witty literature research on time travel. The book could be useful for enhancing one's own imagination upon time travel through various uber ideas of sci-fi legends and its analyses felt worthy. Nothing more than that. Read at your own risk or interest, perhaps.

  13. 4 out of 5

    E

    Dnf 60% I thought is would be more philosophical and exploratory of time travel logic but its basically an anthology of story summaries. If you are interested in a dry and factual retelling of every literary story and philosophical comment that has happened that involved time travel, this book is for you.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This is a really good long-form magazine essay unsuccessfully lengthened into a book. Technically, I didn't finish it. I made it about a third of the way through and realized that my enjoyment was decreasing and the redundancy in each chapter was increasing. Although technically unfinished, I'm marking this as "read" because I feel I received the entirety of the book's value in those first eight chapters (100 pages). It gets two stars, rather than the usual one for unfinished books, because the This is a really good long-form magazine essay unsuccessfully lengthened into a book. Technically, I didn't finish it. I made it about a third of the way through and realized that my enjoyment was decreasing and the redundancy in each chapter was increasing. Although technically unfinished, I'm marking this as "read" because I feel I received the entirety of the book's value in those first eight chapters (100 pages). It gets two stars, rather than the usual one for unfinished books, because the part I read was interesting and well written until it wasn't.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachel (Kalanadi)

    I thought this had some very interesting tidbits about the history of time travel in fiction and how our awareness of time has changed. By the end I thought Gleick was spending far too much time recapping the plots of various books, movies, etc. rather than fully analyzing them. I really enjoyed the diversity of examples he talks about, however.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Camelia Rose

    Time Travel: A History is 70% history of our idea of time travel, whose evolution largely happened in science fictions, and 30% history of time in physics. It is a book more of philosophy and sociology than science. You can almost treat this book as a summary of time travel science fictions. It starts with H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, of course. It includes E. Nesbit's Strange Tales, Issac Asimov's The End of Eternity, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, Ray Bradbury A Sound of Thunder, Jack Fin Time Travel: A History is 70% history of our idea of time travel, whose evolution largely happened in science fictions, and 30% history of time in physics. It is a book more of philosophy and sociology than science. You can almost treat this book as a summary of time travel science fictions. It starts with H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, of course. It includes E. Nesbit's Strange Tales, Issac Asimov's The End of Eternity, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, Ray Bradbury A Sound of Thunder, Jack Finney's Time and Again, Charles Wu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Daphne du Maurier's The House on the Strand, Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, and many more, plus movies and TVs such as Midnight in Paris and Doctor Who, and the time capsule enthusiasts. Ideas from Newton, Einstein, Niels Bohr and Stephen Hawking are discussed. Einstein's famous quote "Time is an illusion" is explained. Multiverse hypothesis (first proposed by Hugh Everett) is explored.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jaksen

    Interesting book, both from an historical and scientific POV. I picked it up as I'm interested in the concept, but also in time itself aside from the idea/concept/theory/argument of time travel. I always thought, or read, that humans began to think 'in terms of time' when they learned to follow animal migrations and had to contend with changes in the weather, for example, seasonal changes. Past, present and future became fixed in our brains as necessary for survival. Remembering where and when w Interesting book, both from an historical and scientific POV. I picked it up as I'm interested in the concept, but also in time itself aside from the idea/concept/theory/argument of time travel. I always thought, or read, that humans began to think 'in terms of time' when they learned to follow animal migrations and had to contend with changes in the weather, for example, seasonal changes. Past, present and future became fixed in our brains as necessary for survival. Remembering where and when we last saw a herd of aurochs, for example, or keeping track of the days (setting and rising sun) until the mammoths returned. This seems to me vital even if we weren't sitting around the campfire discussing time itself. And then when we domesticated animals, time was how long it took for a cow to go from being bred to dropping a calf, that sort of thing. Time was an ordinary part of life - and yet also vitally important. However, from this book it does seem time, keeping 'track' of it, and even thinking about moving forward through it, is an entirely recent concept. (Especially the travel part, and yeah, I get that, thank you Mr. Wells.) Anyhow, interesting, though I got lost in some of the mathematical explanations and deeper theories. Seems to me that 'time' and its study is an entire science unto itself. Three stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    I liked this one a lot. Here's a good professional review, by Adrienne LaFrance (scroll down): https://www.theatlantic.com/entertain... --and a more-detailed one, by Maria Popova (scroll down): https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12... Her pick for second-best science book of 2016. Pretty fast read, although it got spread out over a couple of weeks due to other stuff going on. I liked this one a lot. Here's a good professional review, by Adrienne LaFrance (scroll down): https://www.theatlantic.com/entertain... --and a more-detailed one, by Maria Popova (scroll down): https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12... Her pick for second-best science book of 2016. Pretty fast read, although it got spread out over a couple of weeks due to other stuff going on.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Time travel feels like an ancient tradition, rooted in old mythologies, old as gods and dragons. It isn't. Though the ancients imagined immortality and rebirth and lands of the dead, time machines were beyond their ken. Time travel is a fantasy of the modern era. When Wells in his lamp-lit room imagined a time machine, he also invented a new mode of thought. Basically, Time Travel by James Gleick is a big circular overview of how the evolving scientific understanding of the nature of “time” i Time travel feels like an ancient tradition, rooted in old mythologies, old as gods and dragons. It isn't. Though the ancients imagined immortality and rebirth and lands of the dead, time machines were beyond their ken. Time travel is a fantasy of the modern era. When Wells in his lamp-lit room imagined a time machine, he also invented a new mode of thought. Basically, Time Travel by James Gleick is a big circular overview of how the evolving scientific understanding of the nature of “time” in the nineteenth century affected the imaginations of that era's novelists, who then invented the concept of time travel, and how these novels then inspired philosophers to further explore the nature of time (which affected the scientists who then inspired the next generation of novelists who introduced new quandaries for the philosophers: can you go back and kill Hitler or your own grandfather?) As Gleick attempts to cover the evolution of all three fields as regards time travel – scientific, literary, philosophical – this is a book crammed with references, and no one idea is explored with any real depth. But as this exploration was perfectly suited to my interests – and as a nonscientist/philosopher I was sometimes stretched to the limits of my own understanding – it was, for me, a perfect overview of the connections between these fields that I hadn't considered before. I found this book to be both entertaining and enlightening. Despite Marcel Proust being mentally transported into the past by the scent of madeleines or Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle sleeping his way into the future, Gleick picks H. G. Wells' The Time Machine as the first true exploration of the notion that humans could be physically moved through “time” as though it was a distinct fourth dimension; a truly radical idea for the era, but which we now accept as a given. Over the years we've allowed storytellers to invent the science behind time travel (from Wells' steampunk contraption to a DeLorean's flux capacitor), or let them get away with using magical devices, or since we now tend to blandly accept time travel as a trope, the process can be dismissed simply as wibbly wobbly timey wimey...stuff. Building on Einstein's Theory of Relativity, quantum physicists have proven that at a subatomic level, time can indeed be reversed and particles sent into the past (and described as easily as changing the “t” in an equation to “-t”), and to the layperson, this has had the effect of making time travel seem plausible, when a hundred years ago it was the most radical idea imaginable. Gleick makes the point that simply by writing about time, novelists, scientists, and philosophers have changed our notion of the nature of time: We have a tendency to take our words too seriously, which happens (paradoxically) when we are unconscious of them. Language offers a woefully meager set of choices for expressing what we need to express. Consider this sentence: “I haven't seen you for a [?] time.” Must the missing word be long? Then time is like a line or a distance – a measurable space. The language forces this upon us. Who was the first person to say that time “passes” or time “flows”? We are seldom conscious of the effect of language on our choice of metaphors, the effect of our metaphors on our sense of reality. By thinking of time as a line that runs infinitely behind and in front of us, this led to the rise of fatalism – the idea that the future is as fixed as the past, and therefore free will is an illusion – and in the mid-twentieth century, this was the model that the novelists, scientists, and philosophers were all working from. (And it took the novelists to imagine the forking and branching that led to the currently acceptable notion of multiverses.) Neither the math nor the literary imagination could disprove the idea of a fixed (if infinitely branching) timeline, and I found it especially interesting that it was David Foster Wallace, in his honors thesis in Philosophy, who ultimately refuted the notion of fatalism: Words represent things but the words are not the things. Fatalism is a philosophy built out of words, and ultimately its conclusions apply to words – not necessarily to reality. Again and again, it was Gleick's circling from literary plot to scientific theory to philosophical “proofs” that I found so interesting, and I can accept that this exploration and this format may not have widespread appeal. In particular, I really appreciated the following perspective on the nature of consciousness as a followup to what I recently read in Yuval Noah Harari's Homo Deus: Physicists have developed a love-hate relationship with the problem of the self. On the one hand it's none of their business – leave it to the (mere) psychologists. On the other hand, trying to extricate the observer – the measurer, the accumulator of information – from the cool description of nature has turned out to be impossible. Our consciousness is not some magical onlooker; it is a part of the universe it tries to contemplate. The mind is what we experience most immediately and what does the experiencing. It is subject to the arrow of time. It creates memories as it goes. It models the world and continually compares these models to their predecessors. Whatever consciousness will turn out to be, it's not a moving flashlight illuminating successive slices of the four-dimensional space-time continuum. It is a dynamic system, occurring in time, evolving in time, able to absorb bits of information from the past and process them, and able as well to create anticipation for the future. As I've written before, the nature of time has long been of particular interest to me, and Gleick's perspective – that it is the storytellers who both push the limits of the science and mold our understanding through the use of the words they use – was fascinating to me. As for the writing, it was satisfying enough for me to have ordered another book from Gleick.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David

    Available as a well-read and entertaining 10-hour audio download. Although I enjoyed listening to this going to and from work, the bicycle repair shop, etc., I hesitate to recommend it outright. It had lots of interesting ideas and cool bits. I especially liked the reflections on the plain fact that, although time travel in a vehicle as a concept was surely conceivable from before the time of the invention of writing, apparently no one really thought of it until H.G. Wells, thousands of years lat Available as a well-read and entertaining 10-hour audio download. Although I enjoyed listening to this going to and from work, the bicycle repair shop, etc., I hesitate to recommend it outright. It had lots of interesting ideas and cool bits. I especially liked the reflections on the plain fact that, although time travel in a vehicle as a concept was surely conceivable from before the time of the invention of writing, apparently no one really thought of it until H.G. Wells, thousands of years later. It seems like you didn't need the existence of machines to think of vehicular time travel. So why didn't anybody think of it? It seems especially strange now that you can no longer swing a digital dead cat around Amazon's best-seller list without hitting an .epub file detailing the adventures taken in some sort of box hurtling through the eons. However, I also got the impression that the author got a decent-size advance, promised a book-length history of time travel, but then couldn't deliver. This is largely because, sorry kids, there is no time travel, no matter how appealing the possibility might appear to those of us who are finding the world as currently configured insufficiently rich in drama, justice, joy, adventure, or some combination of the preceding, but excessively rich in intimations of mortality. In the absence of the real time travel deal, the author is condemned to chronicle the back and forth where popular fiction influences real science and back again. This is interesting, but it's hard to squeeze a really book-length book out of this as a topic, especially as the author has apparently received strict orders from the oppressive patriarchy not to mention the entire oeuvre of Connie Willis, a creative and prolific distaff practitioner of the genre. But the back and forth where popular fiction etc is not quite enough to pad out a whole book, I fear, so I think the author got his friends over and, over a bottle of Knob Hill, asked them to wrack their brains for topics, however tangentially-related, that could be shoe-horned into this book. Hence, there is a long bit that says that flipping back and forth in a book is a type of time-travel, which is really isn't, sorry. Similarly, there is an especially ill-humored chapter where the sort of civic-minded boosters who propose, assemble, and bury time-capsules in the cornerstones of buildings come in for a sound tongue-lashing. Since most of these people are seemingly guilty of nothing worse than a sense of pride (justified or not) in where they are from and a human desire to preserve some small part of their personal experience from the oblivion which eventually engulfs all things, it seems simply mean-spirited to ridicule them just because their efforts are not particularly successful. Briefly noted in the New Yorker, 19/26 December 2016

  21. 4 out of 5

    Audwee Black

    I thought this would be the perfect end to the random slew of time related books I’d been reading. Instead it sparked a desire to dig further into the endless abyss of time travel literature and media! This book boasts an impressive chronology of the mere idea of time travel and chronicles its sometimes indistinguishable trajectory through both fiction and physics. It’s clear the author did his homework, although who wouldn’t if the assignment was to read some of the greatest ever authors’ works I thought this would be the perfect end to the random slew of time related books I’d been reading. Instead it sparked a desire to dig further into the endless abyss of time travel literature and media! This book boasts an impressive chronology of the mere idea of time travel and chronicles its sometimes indistinguishable trajectory through both fiction and physics. It’s clear the author did his homework, although who wouldn’t if the assignment was to read some of the greatest ever authors’ works surrounding the most puzzling topics we face as humans. The book can get a bit redundant, but with all discussion of time circling back to central unanswered questions like free will/determinism, it’s understandably hard to create a definitive progressive work. Props to the author for being able to put into words, and synthesize others prose, on such a slippery and undefinable topic.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Edward Wendt

    This book could in many ways serve as a textbook, encompassing elements of literary history, philosophy and physics. It is a bit heavy at times, and is meant as an all-encompassing analysis of time travel, not just a recap of time travel in various media. There is lots of good information in here, just the manner in which it is presented is often a bit too convoluted, as though the author is trying to make sense of time by using too many quotes and literary obfuscations. A good read, but probabl This book could in many ways serve as a textbook, encompassing elements of literary history, philosophy and physics. It is a bit heavy at times, and is meant as an all-encompassing analysis of time travel, not just a recap of time travel in various media. There is lots of good information in here, just the manner in which it is presented is often a bit too convoluted, as though the author is trying to make sense of time by using too many quotes and literary obfuscations. A good read, but probably one better slowly digested.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    Very interesting book, but lacks cohesion and at some points tries to connect opposing point of views that don't end up coordinating. This book needs to be taken slow and with the previous understanding that all talk in it remains theoretical , no it's not going to tell you how to travel in time.... but it will give you all the mentions that time travel has had in the history of literature and media . Very interesting but a tad dry for a reader with no knowledge of theoretical physics. Very interesting book, but lacks cohesion and at some points tries to connect opposing point of views that don't end up coordinating. This book needs to be taken slow and with the previous understanding that all talk in it remains theoretical , no it's not going to tell you how to travel in time.... but it will give you all the mentions that time travel has had in the history of literature and media . Very interesting but a tad dry for a reader with no knowledge of theoretical physics.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sabin

    Gleick’s books are usually long narratives, taking an idea from its conception to its different applications and their effects on present-day society. They are big ideas which have had, and continue to have, a great impact. And so it is with time travel. True, he, on numerous occasions, reaches the conclusion that, as far as we know, time travel is impossible, but that does not preclude the idea from having an impact on today’s society and it also gives him space to explore hypothetical question Gleick’s books are usually long narratives, taking an idea from its conception to its different applications and their effects on present-day society. They are big ideas which have had, and continue to have, a great impact. And so it is with time travel. True, he, on numerous occasions, reaches the conclusion that, as far as we know, time travel is impossible, but that does not preclude the idea from having an impact on today’s society and it also gives him space to explore hypothetical questions. For this reason, the book is as much a history of the early days of Science Fiction literature as of philosophical and scientific ideas related to the meaning of time and what it is. Pretty much everything is readily accessible, the science is mostly explained clearly inasmuch as it helps the reader get a general picture of the ideas under scrutiny, while avoiding a lot of information which could not be as readily explained without the underlying maths. Fortunately his review of literature is a lot more comprehensive. Starting with the literal conception of time travel by H.G. Wells he takes the reader through most time travel plot types in the SF literature, but also discusses other ways of time travel in literature, like Proust’s involuntary memory or Kate Atkinson’s many-lived protagonist in Life After Life or Bill Murray’s dilemmas in Groundhog Day. If you read Gleick before you know exactly what to expect from the book and you won’t be disappointed. If not, then expect a lot of interesting tidbits of information to open your appetite, if not for the science then at least for the literature.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    It's hard to imagine a topic that is more rife with paradoxes than time travel (or 'Time Trave' as this book's trying-too-hard cover design appears to call it), so it shouldn't be surprising that this book itself is a paradox. There are few subjects more dripping with potential for fun popular science than time travel - but this isn't a popular science book. It's true that there are few writers who can rival James Gleick when he's on form at writing a popular science title. But this isn't one. Q It's hard to imagine a topic that is more rife with paradoxes than time travel (or 'Time Trave' as this book's trying-too-hard cover design appears to call it), so it shouldn't be surprising that this book itself is a paradox. There are few subjects more dripping with potential for fun popular science than time travel - but this isn't a popular science book. It's true that there are few writers who can rival James Gleick when he's on form at writing a popular science title. But this isn't one. Quietly, without fuss, he announces that time travel is impossible. It's not real. It could be a very short book... but it isn't. Perhaps I should have got a clue from the amount of time Gleick spends in the first two chapters on The Time Machine. Of course, it makes sense now. He's going to give us a rollicking exploration of the science fiction that has made time travel a part of our everyday lives and tell us more about the writers who've made it happen. But the book doesn't do that either. Although Gleick gives us a spot of biographical information on H. G. Wells, we hear hardly anything about the other SF writers he references - and, in the end, this isn't much of a book about the science fiction of time travel either. Instead what we get is hand-waving philosophising, bringing together a pop-philosophy mix of time in our culture, pure philosophy and a spot of philosophy of science, considering whether physicists really do believe that time does not exist. It's verbose, waffly and hard work for little reward. If you are into the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Marcel Proust and David Foster Wallace you will probably love this book. But if, like me, you find them overblown and unnecessary then it will be something of a penance. Here's a short extract to get a flavour of the style: These physical objects, worn or broken by the years, were like bottles containing messages written by our ancestors, to tell us who they were. 'Antiquities are Historie defaced, or some remnants of History, which have casually escaped the shipwrack [sic] of time,' Roger Bacon had said. By 1900, London had surpassed Paris, Rome, Venice and Amsterdam as the world's centre of trade in antiquities... If you read that and think, 'Wow, great prose,' this is the book for you. If, on the other hand, your pretentious twaddle detector goes off, avoid it. I'd also note that this is not the only example of something in the book that raised an eyebrow. Roger Bacon only wrote in Latin, so this is a translation, and why Gleick has used such an old fashioned one, other than to be quaint, is hard to understand. This book will definitely divide readers - but as popular science I can't feel any love for it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Etienne

    2,5/5. A book that shoots in every possible direction and that confuse itself. The worst part is that it spends most of his time in cultural history of time travel and not enough in the philosophical aspect or physics. A least a third of it can be seen has a homage of sort to H. G. Wells, Asimov, Borges, which is interesting in a cultural aspect but I was expecting something way more technical, deeper thinking and it never really happens. A big let down!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Vaishali

    A jumbled conglomeration of theories on time travel's viability vs. humanity's love affair with it. Gleick labels this a history, but a systematic chronology of events it is not. Prepare to wade through a swamp of pop culture references... but only one heralding "a boy in a DeLorean.” I so, so, so miss you, Marty McFly :( Interesting quotes: ----------------- “What is time? A measured portion of eternity.” “Time exists in order so that everything doesn’t happen all at once. Space exists so that it d A jumbled conglomeration of theories on time travel's viability vs. humanity's love affair with it. Gleick labels this a history, but a systematic chronology of events it is not. Prepare to wade through a swamp of pop culture references... but only one heralding "a boy in a DeLorean.” I so, so, so miss you, Marty McFly :( Interesting quotes: ----------------- “What is time? A measured portion of eternity.” “Time exists in order so that everything doesn’t happen all at once. Space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you.” “If ‘past’ meant anything… it would mean looking in a certain direction, while future meant looking the opposite way. The universe rigid is a prison. Only the time traveler can call himself free.” “In the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic, Kakudmi ascends to the heavens to meet Brahma, and finds upon his return that epics have passed.” “You know of transmigration of souls, but do you know of transposition of epics and bodies?” - Mark Twain's A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court “The present is nonexistent, a tiny fraction of a phenomenon, smaller than an atom. The physical size of an atom is known to be 1.5 x 10(-8) cm in diameter. No one has yet measured the fraction of a solar second that is equal to the present.” “Prophesy is old. The business of foretelling the future has existed for all recorded history… among the most venerable of professions, if not always the most trusted." “I wonder how one augur can keep from laughing when he passes another.” - Cato Censorious “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” - Albert Einstein “…On a hilltop near the Potomac River, the United States maintains a Directorate of Time, a sub-department of the Navy, and by law the country’s official time-keeper. Likewise in Paris, is the BIPM, which also owns the international prototype of the kilogram.” “Free will cannot be easily dismissed because we experience it directly : we all make choices. No philosopher has yet sat down in a restaurant and told the waiter ‘Just bring me whatever the universe has preordained.’ " “Steven Hawking… describes black holes as time machines, reminding us that gravitation slows the passage of time locally.” “The past has gone out of existence, the future has not yet been born, and time is made up of these things which do not exist… Time seems to be a consequence of change, or motion. It is the measure of change, earlier and later, faster and slower. These are words that are defined by time. ‘Fast’ is a lot of motion in a little time, and ‘slow’ is a little motion in a lot of time. As for time itself, time is not defined by time.” - Aristotle “We go back and forth being Time’s master and then its victim. Time is ours to use, and then we are at its mercy.” “The observer - physicist or philosopher - stands outside and looks in. The human experience of time is suspended for abstract observation… But the physicist notes that we are fallible organisms and not to be trusted. Our pre-scientific ancestors experienced a flat earth and traveling sun. Could our experience of time be equally naive?” “Shut up and calculate… Everything that can happen, does happen - if not here, then in another universe.” “I am because I die… We perceive time only because we know we have to die.” “… When a person dies, he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth, that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.” - Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. “You live, you will always have lived. Death does not erase your life; it is mere punctuation. If only time could be seen whole, then you could see the past remaining intact, instead of vanishing in the rear view mirror. There is your immortality.” “Facebook announced procedures for continuing or memorializing accounts of its deceased customers… Evidently, corporeal death is no reason to stop posting… No wonder science fiction writers despair of writing about the future. Eternity isn't what it used to be. Heaven was better in the good old days.” “We say the present is real, yet it flows through our fingers like quicksilver. It slips away.” .

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    What a lovely gift from the universe! I turned to my laptop to summarize this very interesting book and the screensaver was image of Fox Fur Nebula. Yes, you will enjoy this book. Anyone reading this. I was not a likely candidate as I avoid science fiction usually and never got into Doctor Who. The author takes us from early man to present day, citing notable contributors to what we think about time. It's intriguing, thought provoking and brilliant. Library Loan What a lovely gift from the universe! I turned to my laptop to summarize this very interesting book and the screensaver was image of Fox Fur Nebula. Yes, you will enjoy this book. Anyone reading this. I was not a likely candidate as I avoid science fiction usually and never got into Doctor Who. The author takes us from early man to present day, citing notable contributors to what we think about time. It's intriguing, thought provoking and brilliant. Library Loan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Scottsdale Public Library

    Is time travel pure fantasy or science non-fiction? Gleick attempts to illuminate the science of this concept; a concept so mysterious, we have to use allusion and metaphor (“the tides of time,” “time is a river,” “time is a thief” etc.) to begin to comprehend its place in our space. Not only does he discuss the literary tools used to describe time, but the literary sources that created the construct of time travel itself! This is a science fiction/pop culture explorative paradise from H.G. Well Is time travel pure fantasy or science non-fiction? Gleick attempts to illuminate the science of this concept; a concept so mysterious, we have to use allusion and metaphor (“the tides of time,” “time is a river,” “time is a thief” etc.) to begin to comprehend its place in our space. Not only does he discuss the literary tools used to describe time, but the literary sources that created the construct of time travel itself! This is a science fiction/pop culture explorative paradise from H.G. Wells to Doctor Who to Jack Finney and even a slight nod to those two infamous time travelers, Bill and Ted. Scientifically based and literature motivated, James Gleick takes on Fatalism to infinities, and whether time could actually fork into innumerable futures in parallel universes. James Gleick offers an intellectual and an excitingly geeky view into the science fiction of the past and present and how it can influence our future. -Sara G.

  30. 5 out of 5

    John Jr.

    Here as elsewhere, James Gleick is the most elegant of companions. His tours take you places you probably wouldn’t have thought were related, much as James Burke did in his television series Connections . If this particular excursion feels a little more diffuse than others, that’s probably because Gleick’s subjects here—time, our scientific understanding of it, our view of history, our cultural fascination with ways of moving through time, whether in memory or through science fiction—are them Here as elsewhere, James Gleick is the most elegant of companions. His tours take you places you probably wouldn’t have thought were related, much as James Burke did in his television series Connections . If this particular excursion feels a little more diffuse than others, that’s probably because Gleick’s subjects here—time, our scientific understanding of it, our view of history, our cultural fascination with ways of moving through time, whether in memory or through science fiction—are themselves elusive, more clearly connected than in some of his other books but less yielding to new insights. I posted a few further comments about the book—not a full-fledged review—on my blog.

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