The best books on time for people who love physics and deep thinking

Craig Callender Author Of What Makes Time Special?
By Craig Callender

The Books I Picked & Why

The Direction of Time

By Hans Reichenbach

The Direction of Time

Why this book?

Most academics have played the game David Lodge calls “Humiliations” in his novel Changing Places: you have to list books that you should have read but didn’t, the more scandalous the better. For a while, Reichenbach’s book was my go-to. I was writing my PhD on the direction of time but hadn’t read Reichenbach. Because it was old I figured I indirectly knew everything in it. Holy moly was I wrong! Not only is The Direction of Time the first serious blend of good philosophy and physics tackling the direction of time — plus a great example of the type of philosophy I deeply value — but it is still packed with insights. No question, I should have read it earlier in my life.  


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The Physicist & the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time

By Jimena Canales

The Physicist & the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time

Why this book?

In March 1922 Albert Einstein came to Paris to deliver some lectures and had a famous exchange with the well-known French philosopher Henri Bergson about the nature of time. This accessible history uses this short exchange as a lens to look at many big topics, including the fascinating history of the resistance to relativity in Europe, the nature of time, the division between science and philosophy, and the role of science in society. What I especially loved was the writing style and Canales’ bringing to life historical characters we seldom hear about anymore, such as Herbert Dingle, Ernst Cassirer, Paul Langevin. 


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Mindworks: Time and Conscious Experience

By Ernst Pöppel

Mindworks: Time and Conscious Experience

Why this book?

When I moved to San Diego I began to get interested in time perception as well as the physics of time. My colleague Patrica Churchland kindly gave me this book to read. It’s a popular, accessible book on cognitive science and time perception. I couldn’t put it down. For sure it changed my academic path. I knew the mind plays all kinds of tricks on us, but the way it creates our inner sense of time experience still amazes me. 


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Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time

By Huw Price

Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time

Why this book?

Price is a philosopher and this book, along with Paul Horwich’s Asymmetries in Time and David Albert’s Time and Chance, are heirs of Reichenbach’s masterpiece. I select Price’s book here because it is more accessible than Horwich’s or Albert’s books. It is packed with fun and deep stuff: criticism of Hawking’s cosmology, exploration of the electromagnetic arrow of time, and serious discussion of wild ideas like causation going backward in time.


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Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction

By Paul J. Nahin

Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction

Why this book?

I’ve never met Nahin but I recognize in him a kindred spirit of someone similarly obsessed with time. If you want to know about time travel, here it is in all its glory. The “tech notes” at the end show that this is a labor of love. Not only will you encounter some of the most fascinating physics (in the works of Godel, Novikov, Thorne, Tipler, and dozens more), but you’ll also learn about early science fiction, the threat of fatalism, the history of the idea that time is the fourth dimension, and more.


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