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Time Travel: A History

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  3,710 ratings  ·  642 reviews
From the acclaimed author of The Information and Chaos, a mind-bending exploration of time travel: its subversive origins, its evolution in literature and science, and its influence on our understanding of time itself.

Gleick's story begins at the turn of the twentieth century with the young H. G. Wells writing and rewriting the fantastic tale that became his first book, a
ebook, 304 pages
Published September 27th 2016 by Pantheon
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Chris Lynch This seems to be a paradox. But one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox …moreThis seems to be a paradox. But one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow. —Søren Kierkegaard (1844)(less)

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Jeremy Bagai
Oct 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A disappointment, largely because I so love Gleick's earlier works (Chaos: Making a New Science, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood in particular are magnificent), and also because I was (mis)led to expect an incisive and exacting comparison of the way Time Travel has been used in literature and movies -- a typography showing how TT mechanics differ between the movies Primer and Looper.

There is a hint of this. But it is so fleeting, in
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Why is it so difficult—so degradingly difficult—to bring the notion of Time into mental focus and keep it there for inspection? What an effort, what fumbling, what irritating fatigue! —Vladimir Nabokov (1969)
Time is a funny thing, everyone knows what it is and no one can (easily) explain it. But that doesn't stop Gleick from taking a crack at it. Marshaling the collective resources of literature, science, philosophy, cultural anthropology, and religion he walks us down the many side streets
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
This was disappointing. Gleick's previous book, The Information, is one of the very few books I can actually say changed my view of the world, with its crystal clear explanations of diverse scientific and mathematical topics woven together into a compelling scientific whole. Time Travel, unfortunately, is neither clear nor coherent. In this case, Gleick weaves his way between the cultural history, scientific development, and philosophy of time. However, the book works neither as literary critici ...more
Tom Quinn
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I remember distinctly when my interest in time travel arose. I'd seen it in movies and Saturday morning cartoons before and played a little "back to the time of the dinosaurs" make-believe with the neighborhood kids already, but it wasn't until fourth grade that I had the legitimate thought: I should have done something differently. I wanted to go back and change one specific thing, one bad decision. Nevermind exactly what I did, but it resulted in a lot of time spent in my principal's office an ...more
Santiago Ortiz
Beautifully written essay, a flow of thought exuberant in clever ideas and witt quotes (“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”). It's not really a book about time travel, but a book about time, a book that travels time –through history, philosophy, physics, storytelling, logic. ...more
Dec 09, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is really about the history of the idea of time travel. James Gleick traces the history of the idea of time travel, through literature and films. The earliest stories about time travel paved the way, for they first exposed people to the whole concept. Later stories expanded on the concept, showing the possibility for paradoxes. Gleick also explores the concept of time; it is actually rather difficult to define in a non-circular manner. What is time? This becomes a rather philosophical ...more
Jul 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a cultural, scientific, and literary history of time travel, james gleick's new book is expansive, ever-engaging, and almost endlessly fascinating. tracing the origins of time travel (from conception to pop culture plot point), gleick enthusiastically chronicles all things time travel-related (including physics, technology, paradox, literature, film, philosophy, culture, futurism, and much more). time travel muses also on the nature of time and our very human relationship to it, exploring, too, ...more
This book is less about the history of time travel in fiction and more about the concept of time in mostly the 19th and 20th century : how it used to be perceived and the philosophical and scientific theories around it.

I adored about the first third of the book, because it focused very much on the developements that caused the idea of time travel and the discussions this idea sparked. There was a lot of information I found to be fascinating and even mindblowing in relation to history and the sci
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting history on the idea of time travel and so, Time as well. What Gleick seems to suggest is that the idea of time travel has caused us to think about time with much more rigour. While, this history is intriguing, I couldn't help but think of a few other writers who could have tackled this subject better. His flow from one concept to the other seems disjointed at times. However, the ideas here about time in science, fiction and philosophy are a treat to read. ...more
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Literature creates its own time, it mimics time” says James Gleick who uses the subject of time travel in literature as a jumping off point for a deep and fascinating examination of Time.
He delves equally into physics, philosophy and literature to present a refreshing perspective that respects our common experience of time as something very real and not theoretical. Thought provoking quotations abound: “Time is a phantasm of motion” - Thomas Hobbes, and time is “a moving image of eternity” - P
A verbose history of Time Travel in Science Fiction (almost 85℅) and in culture.

Book concentrates mostly on the perceptions of sci-fi authors on time, it's nature and possibility of Time travel, and the reality. Starting from H.G Wells, the book covers many works of authors like Asimov, Heinlein, Proust and many more. Also some glimpses on few physicists' and mathematicians' approach on paradoxes due time travel and possibilities of universes. Enjoyable at some level but not overwhelming.

Most of
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
Dnf 60%
I thought is would be more philosophical and exploratory of time travel logic but its basically an anthology of story summaries.
If you are interested in a dry and factual retelling of every literary story and philosophical comment that has happened that involved time travel, this book is for you.
Perhaps I read too much science fiction growing up, especially time travel stories. Perhaps I thought about the theories and paradoxes over-much on my own: see my review of "Dark Matter".

It's true, I forgot to use, as the classic example of the "impossibly theory", Adolf Hitler--half the mediocre time travel stories try (unsuccessfully) to kill Hitler. Stephen Fry's (awful) "Making History" is one such; it's also been done under the "multiple universes" theory, most notably in Alfred Bester's t
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a really good long-form magazine essay unsuccessfully lengthened into a book. Technically, I didn't finish it. I made it about a third of the way through and realized that my enjoyment was decreasing and the redundancy in each chapter was increasing. Although technically unfinished, I'm marking this as "read" because I feel I received the entirety of the book's value in those first eight chapters (100 pages). It gets two stars, rather than the usual one for unfinished books, because the ...more
Rachel (Kalanadi)
I thought this had some very interesting tidbits about the history of time travel in fiction and how our awareness of time has changed. By the end I thought Gleick was spending far too much time recapping the plots of various books, movies, etc. rather than fully analyzing them. I really enjoyed the diversity of examples he talks about, however.
Dec 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting book, both from an historical and scientific POV.

I picked it up as I'm interested in the concept, but also in time itself aside from the idea/concept/theory/argument of time travel. I always thought, or read, that humans began to think 'in terms of time' when they learned to follow animal migrations and had to contend with changes in the weather, for example, seasonal changes. Past, present and future became fixed in our brains as necessary for survival. Remembering where and when w
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, nonfiction
Time travel feels like an ancient tradition, rooted in old mythologies, old as gods and dragons. It isn't. Though the ancients imagined immortality and rebirth and lands of the dead, time machines were beyond their ken. Time travel is a fantasy of the modern era. When Wells in his lamp-lit room imagined a time machine, he also invented a new mode of thought.

Basically, Time Travel by James Gleick is a big circular overview of how the evolving scientific understanding of the nature of “time” i
Edward Wendt
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book could in many ways serve as a textbook, encompassing elements of literary history, philosophy and physics. It is a bit heavy at times, and is meant as an all-encompassing analysis of time travel, not just a recap of time travel in various media. There is lots of good information in here, just the manner in which it is presented is often a bit too convoluted, as though the author is trying to make sense of time by using too many quotes and literary obfuscations. A good read, but probabl ...more
Feb 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Very interesting book, but lacks cohesion and at some points tries to connect opposing point of views that don't end up coordinating. This book needs to be taken slow and with the previous understanding that all talk in it remains theoretical , no it's not going to tell you how to travel in time.... but it will give you all the mentions that time travel has had in the history of literature and media . Very interesting but a tad dry for a reader with no knowledge of theoretical physics. ...more
Gleick’s books are usually long narratives, taking an idea from its conception to its different applications and their effects on present-day society. They are big ideas which have had, and continue to have, a great impact. And so it is with time travel. True, he, on numerous occasions, reaches the conclusion that, as far as we know, time travel is impossible, but that does not preclude the idea from having an impact on today’s society and it also gives him space to explore hypothetical question ...more
Apr 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
Available as a well-read and entertaining 10-hour audio download.

Although I enjoyed listening to this going to and from work, the bicycle repair shop, etc., I hesitate to recommend it outright.

It had lots of interesting ideas and cool bits. I especially liked the reflections on the plain fact that, although time travel in a vehicle as a concept was surely conceivable from before the time of the invention of writing, apparently no one really thought of it until H.G. Wells, thousands of years lat
Brian Clegg
It's hard to imagine a topic that is more rife with paradoxes than time travel (or 'Time Trave' as this book's trying-too-hard cover design appears to call it), so it shouldn't be surprising that this book itself is a paradox. There are few subjects more dripping with potential for fun popular science than time travel - but this isn't a popular science book. It's true that there are few writers who can rival James Gleick when he's on form at writing a popular science title. But this isn't one. Q ...more
2,5/5. A book that shoots in every possible direction and that confuse itself. The worst part is that it spends most of his time in cultural history of time travel and not enough in the philosophical aspect or physics. A least a third of it can be seen has a homage of sort to H. G. Wells, Asimov, Borges, which is interesting in a cultural aspect but I was expecting something way more technical, deeper thinking and it never really happens. A big let down!
May 29, 2017 rated it liked it
A jumbled conglomeration of theories on time travel's viability vs. humanity's love affair with it. Gleick labels this a history, but a systematic chronology of events it is not. Prepare to wade through a swamp of pop culture references... but only one heralding "a boy in a DeLorean.”

I so, so, so miss you, Marty McFly :(

Interesting quotes:

“What is time? A measured portion of eternity.”

“Time exists in order so that everything doesn’t happen all at once. Space exists so that it d
Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a lovely gift from the universe! I turned to my laptop to summarize this very interesting book and the screensaver was image of Fox Fur Nebula. Yes, you will enjoy this book. Anyone reading this. I was not a likely candidate as I avoid science fiction usually and never got into Doctor Who.
The author takes us from early man to present day, citing notable contributors to what we think about time. It's intriguing, thought provoking and brilliant.

Library Loan
Caidyn (he/him/his)
This review and others can also be found on BW Book Reviews.

This little book covers a lot of territory. And not through time travel, sadly.

What it does cover is almost everything under the sun to do with time travel. It starts off by examining literature, then takes a step back to talk about the history leading up to when time travel is a concept coined by H.G. Wells. Then, it goes back to reviewing all of the literature, the changes and so on. Philosophy gets brought up. Science and how it diff
Scottsdale Public Library
Is time travel pure fantasy or science non-fiction? Gleick attempts to illuminate the science of this concept; a concept so mysterious, we have to use allusion and metaphor (“the tides of time,” “time is a river,” “time is a thief” etc.) to begin to comprehend its place in our space. Not only does he discuss the literary tools used to describe time, but the literary sources that created the construct of time travel itself! This is a science fiction/pop culture explorative paradise from H.G. Well ...more
John Jr.
Here as elsewhere, James Gleick is the most elegant of companions. His tours take you places you probably wouldn’t have thought were related, much as James Burke did in his television series Connections . If this particular excursion feels a little more diffuse than others, that’s probably because Gleick’s subjects here—time, our scientific understanding of it, our view of history, our cultural fascination with ways of moving through time, whether in memory or through science fiction—are them ...more
Feb 15, 2017 rated it liked it
It was a somewhat enjoyable disappointment. If you feel like quasi philosophic discourse on the nature of time with very little science thrown in, then it's perfect. Rambling, meandering and erudite, the book cites many authors on the nature of time, yet provides surprisingly little information. Specifically on time travel, it discusses mainly the ideas science fiction authors, many of them scientists themselves, came up with. It treats reading books as a form of time travel, and Gleick mentions ...more
Kathleen Flynn
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
An erudite and sometimes slyly funny look at the history of our ideas about time travel, embracing physics, philosophy and literature both high- and low-brow.
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James Gleick (born August 1, 1954) is an American author, journalist, and biographer, whose books explore the cultural ramifications of science and technology. Three of these books have been Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists, and they have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Born in New York City, USA, Gleick attended Harvard College, graduating in 1976 with a degree in

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