Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

I’ve probably experienced Alan Lightman in the wrong order. Last week I posted a review of Mr g by Lightman and sprawled across that book and websites about him are mentions of Einstein’s Dreams, which preceded Mr g. It is notoriously his best work and I was equally intrigued by that work as I was by Mr g. So, after the wonderful Emily at Corsair sent me a copy of Einstein’s Dreams I got the chance to see what the fuss was all about and I have to say, I wish I’d read this one first.

The premise of Einstein’s Dreams reminds me a lot of Sum by David Eagleman, in which the author takes an idea and proceeds to dissect said idea and explore other possibilities. Eagleman did it brilliantly in Sum by exploring possible connotations of the afterlife whereas Lightman here is exploring differing concepts of time. This is all told through the dreams of Albert Einstein as he is working in a patent office in Switzerland.

Alan Lightman’s writing here is utterly different to Mr g. Here his prose is lyrical, poetic and beautiful. He doesn’t linger on philosophy but through his sweeping descriptions of other worlds in which time flows differently to how we know it, we are still forced to think and ponder his ideas. Above all Lightman seems to ponder humanity’s view on aging and how society often frowns upon the inevitability of growing old and dying.

He explores this notion of how people often want to capture time in order to age at a slower rate. He does so by postulating that if we move faster than time in houses on wheels that we can gain precious seconds. Or in another dream we see that time slows as we venture higher into the sky so people construct homes on mountain tops in order to grab those precious seconds, only coming to ground if urgent and even then they bustle run from place to place to hold onto time. My favourite iteration of this theme has to be the idea that time is represented by Nightingales and the populace must capture these moments of time within bell jars in order to extend their lives.

But it isn’t just about extending our small existence and Lightman explores many versions of the theory of time. In one we see that time is circular and everything we experience, both good and bad, will be experienced again and again. This of course leads to thoughts of joy as we could be with the loves of our lives again or see our children born time and again. But, of course, we would then need to suffer over and over, too.

Many of Lightman’s ideas are simple and his prose accents them wonderfully by enhancing the emotions that these often nameless characters undergo. Despite all being set around Switzerland there are no real features that flow throughout so we rely on Lightman’s skills to tell a short and sharp story with full effect.

My personal favourite from all of his concepts is the idea that time occurs over one cycle of the the sun. So, in theory, our lives would be experienced over one long day. Those born in the morning will likely venture into outdoor work and are more athletic as they take advantage of half of their life being bathed in sunlight. While those born at night become more intellectual as they study inside. This idea is utterly simple but brings on many thoughts such as those born in Summer will never see a snowflake or those born in the morning will one day know fear as their world is draped in the inky blackness of night.

If you want to experience the mind of Alan Lightman, this is the book to do it. His passions for both writing and science flow together wonderfully and leave the reader with a sense of excitement. My only negative which I created by happenstance is that this is a book to be read slowly. I read it in one sitting and a few of the more in depth ideas began to wane on me a little. I feel if I had spaced out my reading that I would have revelled in every one of Einstein’s dreams fully.

Published by Corsair. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.

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