Review of Einstein’s Dreams
First and foremost, Einstein is not a major character. He is the major consistent character, but we see him little. We are, in fact, left to explore his dreams.
“Suppose time is like a circle…”
“In this world, time is like the flow of water…”
“…time is not a quantity but a quality.”
“…cause and effect are erratic.”
These are the beginnings of Einstein’s dreams. In them, we explore different worlds with different structures of time, how that sort of time changes the perceptions of the people in those worlds. Each world begins and ends in the frame of a short story. Lovers meet. Spouses fight. Business men haggle. Schoolchildren play. Sometimes people age, others fail to age at all.
Beyond this curious exploration of time, however, Lightman explores much deeper into human nature. He examines the tendencies of humans to want to be young, to preserve happiness, to live longer. Throughout the book, he seems possessed with the concept of human mortality. Most compelling on this matter is the short story in which people are immortal, where Lightman states that, “Over time, some have determine that the only way to live is to die. In death, a man or woman is free of the past.” Certainly, Lightman is not a proponent of suicide, but he poignantly demonstrates that our appreciation of life, our purpose and identity, stem in part from the fact that we will ultimately pass on.
What is more subtly intriguing is the underlying plot of Einstein’s meetings with his friend, Besso. During the course of his dreams, Einstein is developing the Theory of Special Relativity, which did indeed change people’s perception of time. Einstein and Besso do discuss Einstein’s ideas about relativity, but Lightman uses Besso to discuss more subtly the nature of Einstein’s marriage and disregard for the everyday, common necessities. Einstein doesn’t eat enough, doesn’t sleep enough, doesn’t experience emotion. Lightman’s characterization of perhaps one of the most intelligent people in the past century is somewhat harsh, albeit realistic. And this persona lays the foundation for the short stories depicting Einstein’s ideas about time, his “dreams” about the true nature of the enigma that is time.
Creative and compelling, Einstein’s Dreams will leave you reconsidering your perceptions of mortality, memory, entropy, and the natural forward flow of time.