Time Essay - Critical Essays

Clifford A. Pickover


In TIME: A TRAVELER’S GUIDE, Clifford A. Pickover not only demonstrates the plausibility of moving through the fourth dimension, but actually makes it enjoyable to learn how Albert Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity work. He does so with a novel mixture of fictional lessons and scientifically sound explanations, amid a sprinkling of quotations about both the science and the philosophy of time.

Each of the book’s eighteen chapters begins with a graphically rich page of three to five brief quotations from scientists, writers, and fictional characters, along with a staff of Frederic Chopin’s piano music. It then presents an science-fictional episode, narrated in second person present, in which “you” are the male director of the Museum of Music in twenty-first century New York City. In each episode, the director gives an informal physics lesson to two associates. The lessons are peppered with the director’s perpetually ineffective passes at Constantia, along with various bits of musical history and praise of Chopin. They make it entertaining to learn about space-time diagrams, light cones, cosmic moment lines, transcendent infinite speeds, Lorentz transformations, superluminal and ultraluminal motions, Minkowskian space-times, Goedel universes, closed timelike curves, and Tipler cylinders.

It is never quite clear why Chopin is so important to the director and his assistants, but the constant references to the composer, his life, and his music do add a lighthearted element to this fascinating book.

Pickover’s work seems to violate the rule that physics must be boring.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, April 15, 1998, p. 1405.

Kirkus Reviews. LXVI, April 15, 1998, p. 563.

New Scientist. CLIX, August 15, 1998, p. 47.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, April 20, 1998, p. 54.