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on May 12, 1997
People have long been fascinated with the idea of time travel. The possibilities are exciting -- you could go back in time and experience firsthand all the wonders of history. You could actually get a second chance to correct mistakes in your own life. To some these possibilities are frightening -- if you really can change the past, what does this do to our sense of continuity? To history? What if you went back and killed your own father before he even met your mother?

Paul J. Nahin discusses both sides of this issue in his thought provoking book Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction. He begins with an overview of time travel, from scientific possibility of it, to popular conjecture about it. He goes on to discuss the nature of time itself, and then ends with an in-depth analysis of paradoxes created by the possibility of time travel. He assures us that we do not have to worry about changing history, because the past cannot be changed.

Nahin has written an excellent book for the layperson. He includes many references to popular works of science fiction, including many stories and movies the reader is probably familiar with. This helps illustrate many of his points. The text is clear and well written. Anyone without a background in physics can understand this book. For those with a more technical bent Nahin includes a few "Tech Notes" at the end of the book to explain certain phenomena he discusses. Time Machines is an exciting book for anyone who has ever sat outside on a long summer night and wondered "what if."
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on September 19, 2001
I am no scientist, that's for certain.
This book is a wonderful blend of science and science fiction. It is perfect for people like me, who are fascinated by the idea of time travel but can't understand math or physics for anything. The first few chapters are basically a literature review. An extremely comprehensive literature review. It'll be enough to make you run to your library or bookstore (or computer) in search of these books and short stories.
Nahin also discusses the reality behind time travel with relatively little math. Most of the math is tucked away in the "Tech Notes in the back of the book. Nice technique to sucker in the math-scaredys like me.
What I really loved about the book, though is Nahin's enthusiasm. He is obviously just as nuts (or more) as I am about this outlandish subject of time travel, which makes the book, in my opinion, stand-out.
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on March 9, 2001
This book is a good introduction to some of the science fiction and science fact speculations concerning the possibility of time travel. It considers time travel from early science fiction speculations (e.g. H. G. Wells' _Time Machine_) to modern science speculations involving quantum mechanics, faster-than-light tachyons, and wormholes. From the classic speculations involving General Relativity of Kurt Godel and his rotating universe, to the modern speculations of Kip Thorne involving the use of wormholes to travel backwards in time, the science of time travel is made clear to the lay person. Philosophical speculation with regards to the metaphysics of time is dealt with fully. The apparent paradoxes of time travel (backwards in time) (e.g. the "grandfather paradox") are considered and possible resolutions to them are proposed. In the end, the reader is left to decide for himself whether time travel is: 1. possible, and 2. feasible (at whatever level of technological advancement). According to Stephen Hawking, the fact that we haven't been visited by time travelling tourists is evidence against the possibility of backwards in time, time travel. I myself do not believe this to be the case and think that there is some other reason for the apparent absence of time travellers. For those of us who boldly wonder about the possibilities of man's future evolution, future technological progress, and future civilization, the issue of time travel is an unavoidable and a tempting one. If man is to ever conquer the galaxy, he must conquer time first. It must be possible - it will be possible! This book is an appeal to dreamers and speculative philosophers to examine fully the issues, paradoxes, and proposed methods of time travel.
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on October 8, 2000
This book just proves that there are things out there that we dont know, and that we should be figuring it out. Before reading this book I thought time travel was virtually impossible, but after reading it I knew that there is a way to do this we just need to try and figure out the mysteries. All in all this books is by FAR the greatest book on time travel yet.
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VINE VOICEon June 11, 2007
The past can be affected but not changed.

This seems to be the moral of this little book from science fiction write Paul Nahin. And, unlike many others who've attempted to talk about time in a serious way, Nahin is all too ready to show readers that he's done his homework.

In four (blink and you'll miss it) sections Nahin takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the issues involved in time travel:

1) An overview of time travel. In this section Nahin samples time travel stories of the ages. While doing so, he introduces readers to some of the more pertinent time travel issues serious thinkers have raised about the topic. One such example is if time travel is real, where are all the travelers? While admitting the serious nature of the question and its implications Nahin also provides readers with possible responses to it (for example, the time machines don't reach back to our era). Another example of serious issues raised is a treatment by Princeton mathematician Kurt Godel who -- using Einstein's own equations -- came up with a solution for them which actually allows time travel. (The good news for time travel fans is that Einstein approved of the solution. The bad news is that it requires our universe to possess physical charactistics it lacks.)

2) On the nature of time, spacetime and the fouth dimension. In this section Nahin discusses hoary questions like what is time? Is time real? And what does it physically consist of? This section is a perfect case in point to the cursory nature with which Nahin treats some of these issues. As to the matters raised in this chapter alone I would refer readers to Michio Kaku's very excellent Hyperspace PRIOR to reading this section. So educated readers will better be able to understand the throwaway references made by Nahin as he sails through topics that probably could each consist of a book in themselves. Of course, just like in the previous section Nahin cites readers to time travel stories which have teased out themes he raises in this section.

3) The arrow of time. Here Nahin digs deep into the question of why time has seeming particular directional arrow. Just as with the previous section I made reading suggestions so that people coming to this book may better be able to appreciate I will make two suggestions now: The Physical Basis of the Direction of Time by Deiter Zeh (in which Zeh discusses the various possible arrows of time as they exist in nature) and also About Time by the University of Adelaide's Paul Davies (in which Davies goes over the same territory, albeit perhaps at more introductory level than that pursued by Zeh). As he does throughout this book Nahin tantalizingly scatters references to various time travel stories as they relate to these issues.

4) Time Travel Paradoxes and Their Explanations. Its perhaps here where Nahin best displays his various beliefs about how time travel would really work. Heavily influenced by Einstein, Godel and science fiction writer HG Wells, Nahin reiterates his views: Time is probably an illusion. Instead all that ever has or seemingly will happen exists now. Attempts to alter past history are mere fantsies therefore though Nahin does allow that some events may involve backwards causation where future actors purposefully or unwittingly aided in bringing them about. Consistent with his thorough treatment of time travel issues however Nahin is candid about how multi universes could make changing the past possible.

Make no mistake. This is a tough book made additionally hard by its brief treatment of some of the issues involved. But I think prepared readers will be glad they made the effort.
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on July 28, 2001
This book is a well put together documentation of the idea of time travel: from fiction to the actual physics equations. I have it beside my Weinberg Cosmology and my Wheeler Gravitation book. If he wrote this way about antigravity, someone might get it to actually work... We need more such books that make the future possible by giving us the facts we need!
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on November 24, 2003
Mr. Nahin obviously is very interested in the topic of time travel. He has read tons of sci-fi stories, has spoken with many physicists and/or read their books.
But he is a journalist, not a physicist. And he makes little or even no effort to synthesise.
As a result the book reads mostly like a list of everything that has been written by sci-fi writers, scientists and philosophers about the subject. But not like a book by someone who truly understands what is going on - provided it is possible to understand.
In my view this is a good book because of all the material in it, all the references. But it is not a good book per se. I gave it 3 out of 5, including 1 point for all the references.
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on January 16, 2015
An encyclopedic book on the history of time travel seen through the eyes and minds of physicists, philosophers, and entertainers (movie makers, novelists, and short-story writers). However, because of Nahin's incredible research, it is dense beyond the capacity of the average lay reader. Although I have a technical education and have read extensively and deeply about time, astrophysics, and time travel, I found it nearly overwhelming. That doesn't mean I was able to stop at the end; no, I just had to read on into the 60+ pages of "Notes" that are appended. The "Notes" are hypertechnical discussions of the math and physics arguments referred to in the core book. I highly recommend the book, but you need to enter into it with an expectation of heavy, heavy reading.
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on September 29, 2002
As I have always been fascinated by the idea of time travel, I very much enjoyed its discussion in Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction; both in 'strictly scientific' terms and from a philosophical, literary and, essentially, pop-culture perspective.

Sadly, Nahin completely ignores two aspects that feature prominently in many modern time travel narratives: the idea of alternate universes/realities and, tied to this idea, the narrative perspective of sequentiality. The perspective of sequentiality follows the POV of the protagonist of a narrative and projects his/her continuity against the alterations his/her actions cause.

As a result of this omission, a number of time travel stories are missing, such as Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity, which remains completely unmentioned. (In this 1955 novel, realities are literally 'engineered' under a time travel program called "Eternity." On the upside, negative historic events such as wars and famines are 'weeded' out through only minimal manipulations in the course of history. On the downside, the same manipulations stall any form of social or technological advancement, thus condemning mankind to mediocrity. Eternity is finally annulled through a simple final manipulation by the protagonist, which will allow human history as we know it to run its 'natural' course.)

Other stories show flaws/inconsistencies in their interpretations. For instance, Nahin points to the 'flaw' in the end of Back to the Future I that the shopping mall should always have been "Lone Pine Mall" and never "Twin Pines Mall" as it was called in the beginning of the film. He argues that from a timeline perspective, Marty had already been to 1955 and had run over one of the twin pines with the DeLorean when the temporal experiment #1 took place in the parking lot in 1985. Nahin is however inconsistent in his own reasoning because if you follow this idea of a such strictly linear timeline, Marty's family should have been healthy and wealthy from the film's beginning as well, which would undermine the whole plot idea of changing history. (The creation of (and dealing with) an alternate timeline that diverts from the main line of events is, added to that, even expressedly discussed in detail in the also unmentioned Back to the Future II).

For this omission: two stars off.

Nevertheless, Nahin gives a lot of food for thought on the idea of time travel, and the rather extensive bibliography supplies a very good reference list for further individual exploration.
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on July 9, 2014
Love this! My best resource for sf writing.
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