Review of “Time Travel: A History” by James Gleick

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

James Gleick’s newest book, Time Travel, was a bit of a disappointment to me. Gleick is an excellent explicator of abstruse subjects (Cf. Chaos and The Information), so I expected a lucid explication of bizarre relativity physics dealing with the nature of time. Instead, Gleick pretty much dismisses the possibility of time travel. He states that, as imagined by writers over the decades, it “does not exist. It cannot.”

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So what is there to write about? Culture: how time travel has been expressed in various forms of media, and the philosophical hopes and dreams behind its enduring appeal, e.g., the desire to continue to exist beyond the years of our allotted lifespan. As he says at the end of the book: “Why do we need time travel? All the answers come down to one. To elude death.”

For most of the book, Gleick describes how various authors, beginning with H. G. Wells and his Time Machine, have explored the potentialities and paradoxes of time travel. His analysis of the literature is enlightening, but will mean more to those familiar with all the works he discusses.

From H.G. Wells "The Time Machine"

From H.G. Wells “The Time Machine”

Evaluation: Since I am more interested in science than in science fiction, my disappointment in the book may not be a fair reaction; fans of time travel in books and on television will no doubt love this overview of how the subject evolved “over time.”

Rating: 3/5

Published in hardback by Pantheon, a member of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2016

A Few Notes on the Audio Production:

I listened to the book, read by Rob Shapiro. Although he does a fine job reading, the problem with the audio version is that the organization or outline of the book is not at all obvious, and it seems to skip from one topic or aspect to another somewhat randomly. I’m sure the structure of the argument would have been easier to perceive in print, but I was never sure where the author was going as I listened in the car. In avoiding the printed medium I may have done a disservice to an author I respect and have enjoyed in the past.

Published unabridged on 8 CDs (10 listening hours) by Random House Audio, 2016

The time machine in "Dr. Who" is called the TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. Credit: BBCAmerica

The time machine in “Dr. Who” is called the TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space.
Credit: BBCAmerica

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About rhapsodyinbooks

We're into reading, politics, and intellectual exchanges.
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3 Responses to Review of “Time Travel: A History” by James Gleick

  1. Beth F says:

    I can see how you’d be disappointed with this … especially if it dashes all hopes of meeting Jamie. LOL

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    That does sound like a disappointment. Too bad. :/

  3. Jeanne says:

    The purpose is “to elude death”? That sounds like necromancy, which I am against. I looked at the table of contents of this book, and it looks to me like he left out some of the really interesting examples, like All You Zombies, which plays around with the idea of time and consequence.

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