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Einstein's Dreams Paperback – November 9, 2004
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Einstein's Dreams became a bestseller by delighting both scientists and humanists. It is technically a novel. Lightman uses simple, lyrical, and literal details to locate Einstein precisely in a place and time--Berne, Switzerland, spring 1905, when he was a patent clerk privately working on his bizarre, unheard-of theory of relativity. The town he perceives is vividly described, but the waking Einstein is a bit player in this drama.
The book takes flight when Einstein takes to his bed and we share his dreams, 30 little fables about places where time behaves quite differently. In one world, time is circular; in another a man is occasionally plucked from the present and deposited in the past: "He is agonized. For if he makes the slightest alteration in anything, he may destroy the future ... he is forced to witness events without being part of them ... an inert gas, a ghost ... an exile of time." The dreams in which time flows backward are far more sophisticated than the time-tripping scenes in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, though science-fiction fans may yearn for a sustained yarn, which Lightman declines to provide. His purpose is simply to study the different kinds of time in Einstein's mind, each with its own lucid consequences. In their tone and quiet logic, Lightman's fables come off like Bach variations played on an exquisite harpsichord. People live for one day or eternity, and they respond intelligibly to each unique set of circumstances. Raindrops hang in the air in a place of frozen time; in another place everyone knows one year in advance exactly when the world will end, and acts accordingly.
"Consider a world in which cause and effect are erratic," writes Lightman. "Scientists turn reckless and mutter like gamblers who cannot stop betting.... In this world, artists are joyous." In another dream, time slows with altitude, causing rich folks to build stilt homes on mountaintops, seeking eternal youth and scorning the swiftly aging poor folk below. Forgetting eventually how they got there and why they subsist on "all but the most gossamer food," the higher-ups at length "become thin like the air, bony, old before their time."
There is no plot in this small volume--it's more like a poetry collection than a novel. Like Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, it's a mind-stretching meditation by a scientist who's been to the far edge of physics and is back with wilder tales than Marco Polo's. And unlike many admirers of Hawking, readers of Einstein's Dreams have a high probability of actually finishing it. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Some vignettes are simple to interpret -- the world where time moves more and more slowly until, as you get to the center of the town, it almost stops. People go there to preserve a childhood, a love, their lives. A kiss can be nearly infinite. Children grow more slowly than redwoods, and never lose their innocence. Some are more difficult. But each one carries some deeper meaning about human life, and how we choose to live it. And the narrative of Einstein as a patent clerk echoes those ideas, as you watch the choices he's made.
This book isn't simply about bringing together science and literature, it's about science and philosophy, science and human nature. It's about how each of us lives so differently, we might all be living in a different temporal reality. Quite simply, it's a wonderful book, that will make you think, and stay with you for a long time. Highly recommended.
One of the most creative people I know (holder of dozens of patents that have created two new industries) first told me about this book. He said that Einstein's Dreams was better for stimulating new ideas than any other book he had ever read. Naturally, I added the book to my list . . . but didn't get around to it right away. That was a mistake! I found Einstein's Dreams better for stimulating creativity than all other creativity books I have read combined. I wish I had read Einstein's Dreams when it first came out.
Einstein, of course, was famous for this "thought experiments" in which he would imagine what would happen if he were placed in different circumstances. For example, what if he were riding on a photon of light? What would happen if he shined a flashlight ahead of him? How would someone riding on a parallel photon of light perceive his flashlight if he flashed it toward the other person?
The result of most of these thought experiments was to understand the nature of time, and to create his famous special and general theories of relativity. (If you want to know more about this subject, be sure to check out Professor Stephen Hawking's latest, The Universe in a Nutshell.)
Alan Lightman has created a novel built around 30 "dreams" (or scenarios) that make differing assumptions about time, and describe how the lives of ordinary people living in Switzerland in 1905 would be changed. In the process, you will probably have several epiphanies. For example, so much of the way we run our lives depends on the fact that time runs forward in what normally seems like a linear, predictable way . . . but without giving us certainty about what happens next in our lives.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I recommend this book for all. Beautiful enlightenment. Mark Reps, Author ZEB HANKS: Small Town Sheriff; Big Time Trouble series and other books on amazonPublished 20 days ago by Justified
This is a very thought provoking book to get a person out of a rut. I have given away so many copies. I cannot even remember who I gave my original hard copy to! Read morePublished 2 months ago by delphiniumeve
The story is truly awesome... You can't get enough of it, it's a very short book but you really feel like you are there, in 1905.Published 2 months ago by P T CHAMELO
The author, a physicist, did a great job of telling 30 stories where time is different than we know. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Dottie Randazzo
One of my all time favorite book of short, thought-provoking stories. A creative masterpiece.Published 2 months ago by Stasia Bliss