Skip to main content

Time Travel for Beginners – Mary & John Gribbin ****

Although this is a children’s (or more accurately young adults’) book, it works reasonably well for adults too who want a basic overview of the science of time travel. It clearly is aimed at the teen market – it has biggish print, large line spacing and some rather gratuitous illustrations – but it also provides a very effective introduction to the basic physics of time travel.
After a quick introduction to relativity and quantum theory – the basics for any time travel device, the Gribbins plunge into time machines that work by dragging space-time, and time machines based on wormholes. I’m not sure they get wormholes quite right – the wormhole described here is bi-directional, implying it’s a pair of black holes rather than a black hole and a white hole, so it’s not quite obvious how you ever get out of it. But that apart, the basics are fine.
Most young readers will find it fascinating that time machines are not physically impossible, just very, very difficult to build, and the book should do well if the right people get hold of it. My only worry there is that to be old enough to understand this book, you probably will be able to read adult popular science. And if you are reading adult popular science, you probably won’t want a book from ‘Hodder Children’s Books’ that looks like a kid’s book, even though the text is, as mentioned, entirely suitable for a beginner adult.
I also found the last section, which woffles on about sum over histories for time travel a little confusing, as if the authors felt they had to include it, but weren’t sure quite what to do with it.
Overall, though, an effective introduction to the science of time travel.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The AI Delusion - Gary Smith *****

This is a very important little book ('little' isn't derogatory - it's just quite short and in a small format) - it gets to the heart of the problem with applying artificial intelligence techniques to large amounts of data and thinking that somehow this will result in wisdom.

Gary Smith as an economics professor who teaches statistics, understands numbers and, despite being a self-confessed computer addict, is well aware of the limitations of computer algorithms and big data. What he makes clear here is that we forget at our peril that computers do not understand the data that they process, and as a result are very susceptible to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Yet we are increasingly dependent on computer-made decisions coming out of black box algorithms which mine vast quantities of data to find correlations and use these to make predictions. What's wrong with this? We don't know how the algorithms are making their predictions - and the algorithms don't kn…

Infinity in the Palm of your Hand - Marcus Chown *****

A new Marcus Chown book is always a treat - and this is like a box of chocolates: a collection of bite-sized delights as Chown presents us with 50 science facts that are strange and wonderful.

The title is a quote from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence: 'To see a World in a Grain of Sand, / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And Eternity in an hour.' It would seem particularly appropriate if this book were read on a mobile phone (so it would be literally in the palm), which could well be true for ebook users, as the short essays make excellent reading for a commute, or at bedtime. I found them distinctly moreish - making it difficult to put the book down as I read just one more. And perhaps another. Oh, and that next one looks really interesting...

Each of the 50 pieces has a title and a short introductory heading, which mostly give a feel for the topic. The very first of these, however, briefly baffled me: 'You are a third mus…

How to Invent Everything - Ryan North ****

Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch.

We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are…