Skip to main content

How to Build a Time Machine [Build Your Own Time Machine] – Brian Clegg *****

If you remember James Burke (‘Good evening. [thoughtful pause; turn from one camera to another; raise an eyebrow] Or is it?’), you’re going to love How to Build a Time Machine! (Build Your Own Time Machine in the UK.)

James Burke is one of my heroes: the BBC’s moon-shot programmes, The Burke Special, The End of the Beginning, Tomorrow’s World, etc. However, it was his Connections programme that really got me. The way that one idea seeded some inkling of another – a tantalising Connection. It was a master-class in how to sneak up on a subject and then to hook the audience with a single line. Brian Clegg is surely cast from the same mould; he’s our contemporary JB.

In How to Build a Time Machine we start each chapter with an affirmation: ‘Yes, time travel is possible …’. There’s clarification, ‘ifs’, often detailed historic references; consequences; and then the practicalities – at which point you might have the feeling that it’s not possible after all. But then there’s the ‘Or is it?’ moment, and one cannot but take the bait and turn the page.

To name but a few, what does the following have to do with time travel?: near-light speed travel, an infinitely long cylinder built from dust – or a less ambitious one (!) built from neutron stars, wormholes, paradoxes, black and white Holes, antimatter, dark energy…? If you’re like me when presented with such a list – appetite whet to the point of drooling – this is a book written with you in mind!

One last and very important point: Clegg is both a writer and a physicist; and it’s as a writer – one who is able to communicate physics to the non-specialist – and that makes this book so very enjoyable. The hard stuff is there, between the lines, but we’re not asked to deal with it – Clegg leads us through, in his own inimitable style. There are just two equations: Einstein’s E=mc2 (of course), and Maxwell’s – the latter because they’re so ‘beautifully spare and simple looking’. Perfect. I’m sure I’ll go back and re-read it. If only I had the time – or a time machine perhaps?


Paperback 


Kindle 

Review by Peet Morris
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Jim Baggott - Four Way Interview

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He trained as a scientist, completing a doctorate in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 80s, before embarking on post-doctoral research studies at Oxford and at Stanford University in California. He gave up a tenured lectureship at the University of Reading after five years in order to gain experience in the commercial world. He worked for Shell International Petroleum for 11 years before leaving to establish his own business consultancy and training practice. He writes about science, science history and philosophy in what spare time he can find. His books include Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb (2009), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (2012), Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017), and, most recently, Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (2018). For more info see: www…

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…