Why Time Flies certainly does not answer our every question. And precisely for this reason it captures us. Because it opens up a well of fascinating queries and gives us a glimpse of what has become an ever more deepening mystery for humans: the nature of time ... [Burdick] is one of those praiseworthy journalists who have an acute sense of what is scientifically relevant, as well as an ability to translate the dry language of laboratory science into something that connects directly to our experience, emotions and daily questions ... The book is a wealth of stories and surprising facts, each page raising our curiosity and unveiling a novel aspect of our relation with temporality.
...fascinating and eclectic ... as his narrative draws to a close and Burdick turns inward, revealing more about his life with his children, his wife, his aging parents and his father in law — as well as more about his personal history, his struggles as a writer and his complex relationship with the past — we grasp that this has been a voyage through Burdick’s life as a man, husband, father, son, writer and mortal human. In this sense, Why Time Flies evokes another far-ranging, symbolic odyssey with an everyman protagonist, that modernist conversion of Homer’s 3,000-year-old, decade-long epic into James Joyce’s Ulysses ... We never get a full-on portrait of Burdick, more of a tantalizing silhouette, but it’s enough to make us realize that this mostly scientific journey through the world of time is also a voyage of self-discovery and finding one’s way back home.
It’s a discursive book, full of literary references, bizarre scientific studies and personal anecdotes about Mr. Burdick’s twin baby boys, whose never-ending care reduces him at the book’s outset to a groggy fugue state ... One problem with studying psychological time is that it’s such a slippery concept ... Mr. Burdick has a talent for summing up several paragraphs of thought with pithy one-liners ... Confusion nevertheless seems inescapable in studying time, and readers expecting definitive solutions to longstanding mysteries may come away disappointed: Inside our minds, the cosmic debate between rigid and fluid time continues. But those who value rich questions more than easy answers, and can tolerate some uncertainty, will find Why Time Flies rewarding.
The first and best half of How Time Flies focuses on human society’s collective relationship to time. Maybe the most revelatory sequence is Burdick’s description of the massive network of atomic clocks that now maintain humanity’s baseline time — Coordinated Universal Time ... The book really does begin to drag, though, when Burdick turns from exploring time as a biological or social phenomena to focusing on the intersection of time and subjective consciousness ... Burdick recounts an entire laundry list of lab experiments like this, and the theoretical squabbling over how to understand them. The ultimate takeaway is worthwhile...But Burdick puts an awful lot of obscuring detail between readers and [the] big picture ... Burdick mostly leaves us gawping in wonder at a mystery that only seems to get deeper the more we poke and prod it. But that’s a strength in the book, not a flaw.