The Or­der of Time by CARLO ROVELLI

Cosmos - - Spectrum - — AN­DREW MASTER­SON

Allen Lane (2018) RRP $26.99

“WE IN­HABIT TIME as fish live in wa­ter.” So be­gins this gor­geous book from the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist Carlo Rovelli, a small vol­ume that both chal­lenges and re­as­sures in its amal­ga­ma­tion of hard-edge physics with phi­los­o­phy and art.

Rovelli chooses to open each of his chap­ters with a quote from the Ro­man satirist Ho­race, a de­vice that is not only charm­ing but also re­as­sures the reader that what is to fol­low might be com­plex but is never with­out hu­mour and a hu­man di­men­sion.

In­deed, the au­thor – a quan­tum grav­ity re­searcher in France in his day job – in­ves­ti­gates the physics of time by call­ing in a smor­gas­bord of help from across the in­tel­lec­tual and his­tor­i­cal spectrum, weav­ing in ref­er­ences to Au­gus­tine, Rene Descartes, Hilde­gard of Bin­gen, Hindu mythol­ogy, and Richard Strauss, as well as the ex­pected names from the canon of science, an­cient and modern.

The re­sult is a rich and tightly wo­ven ta­pes­try that in­ter­ro­gates thor­oughly the very hu­man con­cept of time – some­thing, Rovelli states, that is not “part of the el­e­men­tary gram­mar of the world”.

Not an easy read, by any means, but a lovely one. File next to Hawk­ing’s Brief His­tory.

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