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Time Travel

Cover of Time Travel

Time Travel

A History
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.
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book ONE
    Machine

    A man stands at the end of a drafty corridor, a.k.a. the nineteenth century, and in the flickering light of an oil lamp examines a machine made of nickel and ivory, with brass rails and quartz rods—a squat, ugly contraption, somehow out of focus, not easy for the poor reader to visualize, despite the listing of parts and materials. Our hero fiddles with some screws, adds a drop of oil, and plants himself on the saddle. He grasps a lever with both hands. He is going on a journey. And by the way so are we. When he throws that lever, time breaks from its moorings.

    The man is nondescript, almost devoid of features—"grey eyes" and a "pale face" and not much else. He lacks even a name. He is just the Time Traveller: "for so it will be convenient to speak of him." Time and travel: no one had thought to join those words before now. And that machine? With its saddle and bars, it's a fantasticated bicy­cle. The whole thing is the invention of a young enthusiast named Wells, who goes by his initials, H. G., because he thinks that sounds more serious than Herbert. His family calls him Bertie. He is trying to be a writer. He is a thoroughly modern man, a believer in social­ism, free love, and bicycles. A proud member of the Cyclists' Touring Club, he rides up and down the Thames valley on a forty-pounder with tubular frame and pneumatic tires, savoring the thrill of riding his machine: "A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go." At some point he sees a printed advertisement for a contraption called Hacker's Home Bicy­cle: a stationary stand with rubber wheels to let a person pedal for exercise without going anywhere. Anywhere through space, that is. The wheels go round and time goes by.

    The turn of the twentieth century loomed—a calendar date with apocalyptic resonance. Albert Einstein was a boy at gymnasium in Munich. Not till 1908 would the Polish-German mathematician Hermann Minkowski announce his radical idea: "Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an inde­pendent reality." H. G. Wells was there first, but unlike Minkowski, Wells was not trying to explain the universe. He was just trying to gin up a plausible-sounding plot device for a piece of fantastic story­telling.

    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.
    Why not before? And why now?

    ###

    The time traveller begins with a science lesson. Or is it just flummery? He gathers his friends around the drawing-room fire to explain that everything they know about time is wrong. They are stock characters from central casting: the Medical Man, the Psycholo­gist, the Editor, the Journalist, the Silent Man, the Very Young Man, and the Provincial Mayor, plus everyone's favorite straight man, "an argumentative person with red hair" named Filby.

    "You must follow me carefully," the Time Traveller instructs these stick figures. "I shall have to controvert one or two ideas that are almost universally accepted. The geometry, for instance, that they taught you at school is founded on a misconception." School geometry—Euclid's...
About the Author-
  • JAMES GLEICK (around.com) is our leading chronicler of science and technology, the best-selling author of Chaos: Making a New Science, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, and The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. His books have been translated into thirty languages.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 4, 2016
    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.

  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2016

    A National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist multiple times over, Gleick returns with something that will appeal to lovers of sf as well. Starting with H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, written when the telegraph, the railroad, and the excavation of ancient cultures were rapidly changing our sense of the world's steady tick-tocking, he moves from Marcel Proust to Doctor Who as he tracks time travel as a relatively new and ever-evolving concept in human culture. With a 100,000-copy first printing and an eight-city tour.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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A History
James Gleick
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