North & South - - Review - JENNY NI­CHOLLS


“Time travel” is only as old as cars and tele­phones. When the 29-year-old H.G. Wells pub­lished his book The Time Ma­chine in 1895, he found him­self in a new world. As the su­perbly brainy US writer James Gleick re­counts in this trip through gar­dens of lit­er­a­ture and physics, if you’d tried to ex­plain time travel to Shake­speare he wouldn’t have had a clue what you were on about. This tells us some­thing in­ter­est­ing and fun­da­men­tal, not only about cul­ture, but also about how mu­ta­ble our idea of “time” re­ally is. Gleick has been called “one of the great sci­ence writ­ers of all time” and he is as­ton­ish­ingly adept at mov­ing from quan­tum physics to English lit with­out sound­ing windy or dull. Here he is on the sec­ond law of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, the law that al­lows for time: “The uni­verse tends to­ward max­i­mum en­tropy, the con­di­tion of ul­ti­mate dis­or­der from which there is no re­turn. The eggs will all have scram­bled, the sand cas­tles blown down.”

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