A modern classic, Einstein’s Dreams is a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, when he worked in a patent office in Switzerland. As the defiant but sensitive young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. In another, time is a nightingale, sometimes trapped by a bell jar.
Now translated into thirty languages, Einstein’s Dreams has inspired playwrights, dancers, musicians, and painters all over the world. In poetic vignettes, it explores the connections between science and art, the process of creativity, and ultimately the fragility of human existence.
Few endeavors are more beguiling than a grossly improbable conceit realized with subtlety and wit. Science writer Lightman ( A Modern Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court ) seems to have mastered this principle: his slender but substantial fictional debut is a daring re-creation of Einstein’s dreams during May and June 1905, when the Swiss patent clerk was putting the final touches on his special theory of relativity. Each dream embodies “one of the many possible natures of time.” In one world time proceeds in circles; in another its rate varies with location. In a third, time reverses unexpectedly; in a fourth, it stutters and skips. Each variation spawns its own weird psychology, yet magically, touchingly, each also echoes patterns of events that take place in supposedly ordinary time. Lightman’s speculative prose poem warrants comparison to Calvino’s masterful Invisible Cities . Its one disappointment is a scanty view of Einstein, whom we glimpse only in the waking interludes which periodically break the progression of dream-worlds. The great scientist broods in the hazy distance, indifferent as the Alps above this chronometric carnival. First serial to Granta, Harper’s and the Sciences.