Time Travel, like all of Gleick’s work, is a fascinating mash-up of philosophy, literary criticism, physics and cultural observation. It’s witty, pithy and regularly manages to twist its reader’s mind into those Gordian knots I so loved as a boy ... he employs time travel to initiate engrossing discussions of causation, fatalism, predestination and even consciousness itself ... If this new book can sometimes feel like a mind-smashing catalog of literary and filmic references to time travel, it’s also a wonderful reminder that the most potent time-traveling technology we have is also the oldest technology we have: storytelling.
...[an] exhilarating history ... time travel has become a veritable theme park of playful attractions, which Mr. Gleick explores with infectious gusto ... This may sound ponderous, but Mr. Gleick’s brisk survey is anything but: He is toying with ideas, playing with past and future. He is having fun, and we all know what that does to time.
Gleick gathers an engaging cast of characters who wrote these stories or otherwise explored the possibilities of time travel. His book resembles a salon where the guests include physicists, science-fiction writers, philosophers, logicians and scientist-philosophers, among many other articulate souls ... the rapid circulation of speakers and topics can be head-spinning at times. But Time Travel presents a great read — as well as a wide-ranging, rich list for further reading — for anyone intrigued by the scientific romance of time travel.
Gleick’s narrative rarely proceeds chronologically, opting instead to bounce from topic to topic, back and forth along multiple axes, guided in many ways by the twin lights of H. G. Wells and Albert Einstein ... Time Travel remind[s] [us] of the way that one of literature’s great powers is to remind us that this might be the best of all possible worlds, and that we are here because we could be nowhere else.
...illuminating and entertaining ... Gleick has great fun telling the story of the scientists and the thinkers who touch on his subject ... There’s a lot going on here, and there isn’t a paragraph in Gleick’s book without good sentences and fascinating information. I have to admit, though, that I also found something frustrating in the experience of grappling with these ideas. After reading Time Travel twice, I’ve come to the conclusion that my difficulties are not so much with the book as with the subject itself.
...absorbing and enlightening ... The book is faithful enough to its plain-dealing title: Certainly, Gleick gives the impression of having read everything that has ever been written on the topic of time travel—largely as a byproduct of his having read everything ever written on any topic at all. He is, to be clear, a writer of almost freakish erudition...there’s an infectious kid-in-a-candy-shop gleefulness to Gleick’s hyperactive referencing that reminded me of nothing so much as the nonfiction writing of Borges himself ... Gleick is particularly good on the extent to which our understanding of time is reflective of—as opposed to merely reflected by—the words we use to talk about it ... Gleick is, above all, a gifted synthesizer of difficult materials, a writer who can draw together disparate cultural fragments into a rich and complex whole.
The consummate temporal tour guide, Gleick deftly navigates the twists and turns of our fascination with time travel, investigating its evolution in literature, exploring scientific principles that have hinted at or scotched the idea, and teasing apart the curious spell it cast across society with its suggestion of immortality ... In probing the role of imagination and memory, Gleick also gives space to the concept of mental time travel, the phenomenon which allows us to immerse ourselves in our past and muse upon what the future might hold ... Time Travel is intoxicating, but that is only in part down to Gleick’s execution. Much of this is well trodden ground, our enduring fascination with the notion sown long ago by many adroit hands. At times, Gleick seems to get lost in his own, sometimes opaque, musings. Parts of the book are frustratingly repetitive, while his practice of paraphrasing obscure time travel stories before analysing their finer points too often feels like the dinner party anecdote that rather feebly concludes Well, you had to be there really. Exasperations aside, Time Travel reminds us that our relationship with the slippery concept of time is far from static.
Curiously, Gleick does not go into much detail about the scientific work on time travel of the last few decades, because he is convinced that physicists working on the subject have just read too much science fiction (they have, he condescendingly writes, been 'unwittingly conditioned' by it), and are wasting their own and everyone else’s, um, time ... What, then, is Gleick’s cultural diagnosis? He argues that the persistent dream of time travel is a cultural fantasy of escaping the worries of the present, and in particular of eluding death. This is perceptive and no doubt true, but it would still be true even if time travel were in fact theoretically possible. The author, however, seems too impatient to keep an open mind on the matter ... Time Travel is written with his usual elegance, but there is something morose about it, as though, having embarked on the work, he now can’t believe he is obliged to put all these supposedly clever people right about their stupid fantasies. Indeed, one ends the book intrigued mostly by the quirk of authorial psychology by which someone would choose to write a history of an idea that he is convinced is not only impossible but ridiculous.
...dazzling, dizzying history of time travel ... Gleick’s a wide-ranging enthusiast and a graceful explainer — though some readers (like this one) may need to slow down and focus very hard as we move through the thorny thickets of theoretical physics ... one of the great charms of this book is its author’s willingness to embrace multiple points of view and to credit art and experience as much as theory.
Gleick’s hybrid of history, literary criticism, theoretical physics, and philosophical meditation is itself a time-jumping, head-tripping odyssey, and it works so well. Even though Gleick can elucidate complex ideas into accessible language, he’s even better at explicating notions that remain perplexing. That is, he’s good at explaining paradoxes ... Though Gleick runs the gambit of physicists and philosophers and theorists (from St. Augustine to Stephen Hawking), he’s most fruitful and fun and alive as a writer when he dissects novels and films and television.
Gleick ricochets from concept to concept, counting on his smooth writing to carry advanced concepts. He drops erudite references throughout ... Occasionally Gleick gives the reader a break. A diversion into the history of time capsules is a delightful meditation on the nature of what society considers important in any given era ... Perhaps the best way to experience Time Travel is as for any dense book: by flipping back and forth through its pages, delving in for a period and then letting it rest.
Far-ranging, lucid, accessible and witty, Time Travel tackles its elusive subject from unusual angles but with fine-tuned focus ... Gleick doesn’t try to provide the last word on its subject, as if that goal were even possible. Instead he provides an engaging overview of the topic, hitting the high points, following a few interesting tangents, providing some answers while maintaining an air of ineffable mystery. Like the best time travel stories, this compact but far-reaching book will leave some readers slightly confused but many energized ... Knowledgeable, curious and humane, Gleick proves to be the perfect tour guide for this mind-bending intellectual expedition into the past, present and future.
His writing is clean and clear, his research is impeccable, and his conclusions are always groundbreaking but he always presents them in such a way that they feel, retroactively, like something you’ve understood for a long time ... while time travel is a fun toy to play around with, it doesn’t generally withstand a deep investigation. But the quality of Gleick’s work elevates Time Travel into something no less fascinating, and no less mind-altering, than his other books.