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Review - The Labyrinth of Time - Michael Lockwood  

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This is a bit of curious book (by which I mean it's surprisingly odd, not that it has a highly developed sense of curiosity). It's a popular science wolf in sheep's clothing. It looks like a glossy, pop sci spectacular. It has beautiful, expensive looking graphics and chapter titles like "weaving the cosmic tapestry" and "from quantum jumps to Schrödinger's cat". It even mentions the Beatles in the preface. Yet there's something rather less fluffy lurking under the light-weight presentation.

Done right, this is a great achievement, putting heavyweight content into a user-friendly frame - but unfortunately, with the best will in the world, Michael Lockwood doesn't achieve it. He doesn't succeed in explaining the two main philosophical views on time (tensed and tenseless) in a way that the general reader can latch on to, and after that, instead of building on solid foundations, he is building on shifting sands.

What the book tries to do is use an understanding of time as a way into the complex physics of the present day, from cosmology to quantum physics. However, the problem here is that he hasn't succeeded in wrenching time out of the hands of the philosophers and giving it to the scientists, so we get an uncomfortable mix of philosophy and physics, which never works very well.

It would frankly be much better if he had concentrated on time more only bringing in relativity and quantum physics where relevant, and moreover, concentrated on the science of time, detaching it from the philosophy. As it is, the book is neither one thing or the other, and there's a book out there already covering each of the components better.

Don't get me wrong it's a noble effort, and beautifully produced. There's some good stuff about time travel and all the usual paradoxes and unlikely cosmological vehicles. But it's not the popular science book on time and the universe that it claims to be.

Only in hardback

Reviewed by Brian Clegg

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Last update 05 June 2007