Short Description : EINSTEIN’S DREAMS BY ALAN LIGHTMAN – It is 10 minutes past 6 by the invisible clock on the wall. Minute by minute new objects gain form. In the dim light of morning the young patent clerk sprawls in his chair, head down on his desk. For several months, he has dreamed many dreams about time. The patent clerk is Albert Einstein – a dreamer on the verge of becoming the most influential scientist of the 20th century. In this visionary novel, Alan Lightman explores what Einstein’s dreams about the nature of time must have been like, imagining worlds in which time might be circular, or flow backwards, or flow down at higher altitudes, or take the form of a nightingale. But one theory seems the most compelling and possible for our own world.
The novel fictionalizes Albert Einstein as a young scientist who is troubled by dreams as he works on his theory of relativity in 1905. The book consists of 30 chapters, each exploring one dream about time that Einstein had during this period. The framework of the book consists of a prelude, three interludes, and an epilogue. Einstein’s friend, Michele Besso, appears in these sections. Each dream involves a conception of time. Some scenarios may involve exaggerations of true phenomena related to relativity, and some may be entirely fantastical. The book demonstrates the relationship each human being has to time, and thus spiritually affirms Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Einstein’s Dreams was an international bestseller and has been translated into thirty languages. It was runner up for the 1994 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Einstein’s Dreams was also the March 1998 selection for National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” Book Club. The novel has been used in numerous colleges and universities, in many cases for university-wide adoptions in “common-book” programs. An off-off-Broadway adaptation of the novel ran briefly in 2003.
If you liked the eerie whimsy of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Steven Millhauser’s Little Kingdoms, or Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths, you will love Alan Lightman’s ethereal yet down-to-earth book Einstein’s Dreams. Lightman teaches physics and writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, helping bridge the light-year-size gap between science and the humanities, the enemy camps C.P. Snow famously called The Two Cultures.
Einstein’s Dreams became a bestseller by delighting both scientists and humanists. It is technically a novel. Lightman uses simple, lyrical, and literal details to locate Einstein precisely in a place and time–Berne, Switzerland, spring 1905, when he was a patent clerk privately working on his bizarre, unheard-of theory of relativity. The town he perceives is vividly described, but the waking Einstein is a bit player in this drama.
The book takes flight when Einstein takes to his bed and we share his dreams, 30 little fables about places where time behaves quite differently. In one world, time is circular; in another a man is occasionally plucked from the present and deposited in the past: “He is agonized. For if he makes the slightest alteration in anything, he may destroy the future … he is forced to witness events without being part of them … an inert gas, a ghost … an exile of time.” The dreams in which time flows backward are far more sophisticated than the time-tripping scenes in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, though science-fiction fans may yearn for a sustained yarn, which Lightman declines to provide. His purpose is simply to study the different kinds of time in Einstein’s mind, each with its own lucid consequences. In their tone and quiet logic, Lightman’s fables come off like Bach variations played on an exquisite harpsichord. People live for one day or eternity, and they respond intelligibly to each unique set of circumstances. Raindrops hang in the air in a place of frozen time; in another place everyone knows one year in advance exactly when the world will end, and acts accordingly.
“Consider a world in which cause and effect are erratic,” writes Lightman. “Scientists turn reckless and mutter like gamblers who cannot stop betting…. In this world, artists are joyous.” In another dream, time slows with altitude, causing rich folks to build stilt homes on mountaintops, seeking eternal youth and scorning the swiftly aging poor folk below. Forgetting eventually how they got there and why they subsist on “all but the most gossamer food,” the higher-ups at length “become thin like the air, bony, old before their time.”
There is no plot in this small volume–it’s more like a poetry collection than a novel. Like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, it’s a mind-stretching meditation by a scientist who’s been to the far edge of physics and is back with wilder tales than Marco Polo’s. And unlike many admirers of Hawking, readers of Einstein’s Dreams have a high probability of actually finishing it. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.