Time Travel: A History by James Glick

I listened to this book a few weeks ago and knew I wanted to revisit – there is so much in it!    So I bought the Kindle version and read it while listening again.  Indeed – there is an enormous amount of material here.


Time Travel 
by James Glick
2016 / 352 pages
read by Rob Shapiro 10h
rating:  8  /literary nonfiction
(read and listened)


The first time through I missed a whole lot because the organization and style are quite different.   I knew the book had some very interesting and intelligently things to say so I gave it a high rating. But It’s actually more like a series of essays on the subject of time,  travel, and time travel with plenty of mini-digressions.   This time I appreciated it more because I knew that – was ready for it.

The boundaries of each essay topic are not well defined and the subject seems to be treated as the author says time actually is – nebulous,  porous and not quite definable.  Quite a lot of the narrative is rather like really creative nonfiction because of the subject matter – how real is time travel? – Also,  fiction and film are discussed quite a lot.

Time travel fiction is different from simple futurist fiction – with time travel the protagonist goes from one time era to another.  With futurist fiction the whole novel takes place in the future.    In literary time travel,  there are lots of ways to get the protagonist to the past or future – caves and closets, sleep and dreams,   books and phone booths,  drugs and even machines – the list goes on.  In science there is no way to get a person or object from

Time travel is now known to be more of a fantasy than a scientific concept and is used far more often in fiction and film (and culture) than in nonfiction and scientific literature.  So Gleick has to treat his subject that way.  A bit of scientific info in each chapter but then going on to what the novelists and film makers did and thought.

And the book is “A History” – it goes back to the idea of reality being different in one “age” or “era”  than in another.   That’s probably due in large part to the impact of the Industrial Revolution on our daily lives – what will life be in the future?  Different – but  for centuries no change at all was really expected.  Then along came that printing press and steam powered looms and so on – today we have “smart homes.”  What’s next?  –  Can we go there? – Only in our imaginations.

The result of this approach is that parts of the narrative are as dry as a physics lecture because they are,  basically,  a physics lecture. But other parts read like fine literature with the flow and ambiguity of a free verse poem.

I enjoyed it more this time – got more out of it.  But I had to read it twice to get there and the promise was far greater than the execution so the rating is a tad lower.

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