Time Travel: A History is a literary, cultural, and scientific exploration of the phenomenon of travelling through time. James Gleick covers everything from H.G. Wells to Doctor Who to tachyons, and does so with humor and clarity. Time Travel investigates paradoxes, examines pop culture, and breaks down the very concept of what it is to live in the present moment.
It seems almost paradoxical for a thing like time travel to have a history, and yet James Gleick, in his newest endeavor, has delved deep into both pop culture and science to bring us a deeply comprehensive history of one of the post popular tropes in science fiction storytelling – and when I say deeply comprehensive, I mean deep. Gleick opens each chapter with a relevant quote, and there are quotes from as wide a variety of people as theosopher Thomas Browne writing in 1642 about time as a part of God’s nature to filmmaker Rian Johnson speaking in 2012 talking about making diagrams with straws. Gleick journeys through the oldest philosophy regarding the nature of time through the 1960s science fiction boom and on through the current day, using Doctor Who’s Sally Sparrow as a narratological example of the first-person time traveler as well as the unreliable narrator in the movie Looper. And it’s not only books and film that Gleick walks us through, but the science of time travel as well. Gleick walks us easily through the idea of time as an arrow as well as touching on Einsteinian relativity and newer, more theoretical ideas of quantum time and how string theory might warp time and allow for time travel – in theory, of course. The author also writes about how people have tried to defeat the endless march of days, discussing everything from time capsules to cryogenics, and he manages to discuss everything in an easily understandable and humorous way. Even the most complicated physics are handled with a jovial touch. But don’t misunderstand, there’s a lot of information in this book. Despite the width and breadth of the subject matter, there’s one thing James Gleick is able to do: give every concept a fair share of time.