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Einstein's Dreams (Vintage Contemporaries)

Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman Einstein is often described as much as an artist as he is a scientist. His picture adorns the walls of many college students, quotes show up in a range of contexts, and most people seem to know some unusual fact about this unique and brilliant man. But what drives his work, especially as it relates to time?Physicist Alan Lightman plays with this question in Einstein's Dreams, his 1992 "novel" centered around Einstein's dreams as he works on his theory of time. Of course, we do not know what Einstein dreams, so Lightman imagines the different scenarios we can play out with the concept of time.The book is split into 30 short chapters each exploring a different concept of time (see below for the full listing). They are tied loosely together by "Interludes" where Einstein interacts with Michele Besso, a real life friend of Einstein. I put "novel" in quotation marks since this book raises the issues of what constitutes a novel, although I'm not going to explore that at this time. While the general concept ties this book together, this is more a collection of short explorations on time and its possibilities. Many of these are interesting, but Lightman stops at raising ideas without exploring the outcome. Where this book could work best is for aspiring writers who want an idea to build on. For example, in "20 May 1905" he envisions a world without memory. People create life books in order to write down what happens so they can "remember" the next day. On the one hand there is the challenge of remembering what address you live at (and thus they write it down), yet you also get to experience your first encounter with your husband or wife as new every night. Lightman does this throughout, showing how time does impact our existence in every way.In "11 June 1905" he explores what is in some ways the opposite, a life in which people cannot conceive of a future. From the simplicity of a man watching a storm approaching, but cannot fathom that it will rain (since that is the future), to a scene of two men embracing goodbye over and over since they cannot imagine seeing one another again. Lightman raises the issue of how does what we think about the future impact the present.Apparently this book is popular in universities, and it is easy to see why. The book raises questions which lead to discussion, although he himself fails to explore the issues. If you want a classic "dorm room midnight discussion," just grab this book and read a quick chapter aloud. Professors can sit back and let students discuss the possibilities in class with little more direction -- that is where the book succeeds.But on its own the book does not offer enough. Lightman could have made this book stronger by covering less, but in more detail. Borges and Saramago take similar themes and give them more consideration, and as a result offer more to the reader. But if you wish to have questions to ponder and need something to start the thinking, Lightman's book is the answer.Lightman himself sounds like an interesting person. He is a novelist, essayist, physicist, and educator. In addition to his writing, he is the Adjunct Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has written nearly 18 books, and they split between literature (fiction/poetry), science, and essays. Einstein's Dreams was his first novel and it received a great deal of praise, despite my somewhat tempered reaction. It would be interesting to see where his later work has led him.