The best books on spacetime

26 authors have picked their favorite books about spacetime and why they recommend each book.

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The Owl Service

By Alan Garner,

Book cover of The Owl Service

The haunting themes and mood of The Owl Service lodged themselves in my imagination when I first read it as a teenager and there they stay, decades later. I’ve returned to its mysterious and beguiling world several times since then, and on each occasion, the book has immediately woven its old spell around me. It is rich in Welsh magic as the past is played out against the backdrop of the present, and a hidden collection of plates decorated with what might be a pattern of owls becomes something far more potent and sinister. This is one of the books that first introduced me to the mysteries of landscape, the power of the past, and the enduring life of myths.

Who am I?

I have always tuned into the atmosphere of places. Sometimes this is a joy and sometimes it’s a very different experience, but either way, it’s a fundamental part of me. It spills over into my work, too, because each of the thirty-odd non-fiction books I’ve written has its own strong atmosphere. I was particularly aware of this while writing Red Sky at Night, as I wanted to evoke a sense of the past informing the present, whether that means planting a shrub to keep witches away from your front door or baking what I still think is one of the best fruit cakes ever.

I wrote...

Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom

By Jane Struthers,

Book cover of Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom

What is my book about?

Have you ever enjoyed a picnic in a field or lazed quietly in a garden or park while watching the clouds scudding above your head, bees nosediving into flowers and birds coasting along on thermals? Have you ever gazed up at the stars at night, marvelling at what you see, or drawn your chair up closer to a log fire while knowing that humans have been doing this for millennia?

Then this is a book for you. It evokes that sense of having a fundamental connection with nature and your surroundings, whether you’re in a town, city, or the countryside. Red Sky at Night also describes many of our country's customs and traditions that have all but vanished but deserve to be remembered.

Time and Free Will

By Henri Bergson,

Book cover of Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness

It is in Bergson's Time and Free Will that I first encountered an inspiring way to think of time. A way of thinking about time that does not focus on the time of clocks and calendars; that does not emphasize the physical homogeneous aspect of time, but rather reveals the relation between time and human existence. This book opened up not only an entirely new way of thinking about time, but a new way of approaching life: instead of focusing on the spatial, static, exterior, homogeneous milestones of life, I rather focus on the temporal, fleeting, inner, heterogeneous qualities of my life. Bergson writes in a relatively clear style, and his texts are accessible also for the interested layperson.

Who am I?

I have time, save time, spend time, waste time, write, and teach time. I am fascinated with the question of time both as a cosmological phenomenon and as an aspect that is inseparable from our existence. I channeled this fascination into a PhD dissertation, books, and articles examining the relationship between time and human existence. But like Saint Augustine, I am still baffled by the question of time and like him: "If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it …, I do not know."

I wrote...

The Intersubjectivity of Time: Levinas and Infinite Responsibility

By Yael Lin,

Book cover of The Intersubjectivity of Time: Levinas and Infinite Responsibility

What is my book about?

The essential theme of my research is the deformalization of the notion of time,' asserted Emmanuel Levinas in a 1988 interview, toward the end of his long philosophical career. But while the notion of time is fundamental to the development of every key theme in Levinas's thought - the idea of the infinite, the issue of the alterity of the other, the face of the other, the question of our ethical relations with other people, the role of fecundity, speech and language, and radical responsibility - his view of time remains obscure.

Yael Lin's exhaustive look at Levinas's primary texts, both his philosophical writings and his writings on Judaism, brings together his various perspectives on time. Lin concludes that we can, indeed, extract a coherent and consistent conception of time from Levinas's thought, one that is distinctly political.

Being and Time

By Martin Heidegger, John MacQuarrie (translator), Edward S. Robinson (translator)

Book cover of Being and Time

If aliens land and ask me what it’s like to be a human, I’ll give them Heidegger’s first book, Being and Time. Of course, that might prompt them to destroy all humans out of frustration at the difficulty of his writing, but if they persevere, they will find the best description of what it’s like to live out your time on this planet (One Hundred Years of Solitude comes in second).


Who am I?

I’m a professor of philosophy because when I got to college, philosophy sounded like what Gandalf would study—the closest thing we have to the study of magic. It turns out, I wasn’t far from the mark. Philosophy shows you entire dimensions to the world that you never noticed because they exist at weird angles, and you have to change your way of thinking to see them. Entering them and seeing the world from those perspectives transforms everything. A great work of philosophy is like having the lights turn on in an annex of your mind you didn’t know was there, like an out-of-mind experience—or perhaps, an in-your-mind-for-the-first-time experience.

I wrote...

Heidegger: Thinking of Being

By Lee Braver,

Book cover of Heidegger: Thinking of Being

What is my book about?

Many consider Heidegger the most important philosopher of the 20th Century; many more consider him incomprehensible. His writing is notoriously off-putting, requiring readers to almost learn a new language in order to get at his ideas. But those ideas are so spectacular that I wanted everyone to be able to understand them, so I drew on my decades of experience teaching him to students to convey his thoughts in the most readable, enjoyable style possible, with lots of examples and a few jokes. If you want to understand the existence you’ve been thrown into, if you want the closest thing to an Owner’s Manual to a human life that I’ve ever encountered, read Heidegger. If you want to understand him, read my book alongside him.

What Makes Time Special?

By Craig Callender,

Book cover of What Makes Time Special?

Our best physical understanding of the universe has no place for the passage of time as a distinct dynamical process. What time it is ‘now’ is no more a fundamental aspect of the universe than what place is ‘here’. This strikes many as counter-intuitive or impossible. Philosopher Craig Callender takes the reader on a very thorough examination of modern physical theories of time in search of an explanation as to why the time of physics seems to diverge from the time of human experience. He argues that, due to the way the laws of physics are constituted, time is just the dimension that allows for the most informative explanations for physical phenomena.


Who am I?

I am a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, with a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I teach courses in the philosophy of space and time, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of science. In addition to several authored and edited books on the philosophy of time, I have published many scholarly articles on time, perception, knowledge, and the history of the philosophy of time. I have always been attracted to the philosophy of time because time is quite simply at the root of everything: through the study of time we confront and illuminate the deepest possible questions both as to the nature of the physical world and as to the nature of human existence.


I wrote...

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time

By Adrian Bardon,

Book cover of A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time

What is my book about?

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time is a short introduction to the history, philosophy, and science of the study of time-from the pre-Socratic philosophers through Einstein and beyond.

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time covers subjects such as time and change, the experience of time, physical and metaphysical approaches to the nature of time, the direction of time, time travel, time and freedom of the will, and scientific and philosophical approaches to eternity and the beginning of time. I use illustrations and keep technical language to a minimum in bringing the resources of over 2500 years of philosophy and science to bear on some of humanity's most fundamental and enduring questions.

The Direction of Time

By Hans Reichenbach,

Book cover of The Direction of Time

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.  


Who am I?

I am a philosopher of science who has an obsession with time. People think this interest is a case of patronymic destiny, that it’s due to my last name being Callender. But the origins of “Callender” have nothing to do with time. Instead, I’m fascinated by time because it is one of the last fundamental mysteries, right up there with consciousness. Like consciousness, time is connected to our place in the universe (our sense of freedom, identity, meaning). Yet we don’t really understand it because there remains a gulf between our experience of time and the science of time. Saint Augustine really put his finger on the problem in the fifth century when he pointed out that it is both the most familiar and unfamiliar thing.

I wrote...

What Makes Time Special?

By Craig Callender,

Book cover of What Makes Time Special?

What is my book about?

As we navigate through life we instinctively model time as having a flowing present that divides a fixed past from open future. This model develops in childhood and is deeply saturated within our language, thought and behavior, affecting our conceptions of the universe, freedom and the self. Yet as central as it is to our lives, physics seems to have no room for this flowing present.

Does physics really “spatialize” time, as is commonly alleged? By looking at the world "sideways" - in the spatial directions -- Callender shows that even relativity theory makes significant distinctions between the spacelike and timelike directions, often with surprising consequences.

Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point

By Huw Price,

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

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.


Who am I?

I am a philosopher of science who has an obsession with time. People think this interest is a case of patronymic destiny, that it’s due to my last name being Callender. But the origins of “Callender” have nothing to do with time. Instead, I’m fascinated by time because it is one of the last fundamental mysteries, right up there with consciousness. Like consciousness, time is connected to our place in the universe (our sense of freedom, identity, meaning). Yet we don’t really understand it because there remains a gulf between our experience of time and the science of time. Saint Augustine really put his finger on the problem in the fifth century when he pointed out that it is both the most familiar and unfamiliar thing.

I wrote...

What Makes Time Special?

By Craig Callender,

Book cover of What Makes Time Special?

What is my book about?

As we navigate through life we instinctively model time as having a flowing present that divides a fixed past from open future. This model develops in childhood and is deeply saturated within our language, thought and behavior, affecting our conceptions of the universe, freedom and the self. Yet as central as it is to our lives, physics seems to have no room for this flowing present.

Does physics really “spatialize” time, as is commonly alleged? By looking at the world "sideways" - in the spatial directions -- Callender shows that even relativity theory makes significant distinctions between the spacelike and timelike directions, often with surprising consequences.

The Time Garden

By Edward Eager, N.M. Bodecker (illustrator),

Book cover of The Time Garden

Edward Eager’s books were my inspiration when I started writing the President and Me series. I picked The Time Garden here because it specifically deals with the concept of time, but most of Eager’s books would fit the bill, including Half Magic. Eager’s books, published in the 1950s and ‘60s, feature kids who have magic adventures, often through time travel but are also grounded in their own present-day reality, with issues they have to cope with in between their escapades.


Who am I?

I am a former journalist, currently a freelance writer and editor, book blogger, and author. I’ve spent my entire life voraciously reading. I majored in history in college and spent many years covering Congress and politics in Washington, D.C., before turning to writing books.


I wrote...

George Washington and the Magic Hat: George Washington and the Magic Hat (The President and Me, 1)

By Deborah Kalb, Robert Lunsford (illustrator),

Book cover of George Washington and the Magic Hat: George Washington and the Magic Hat (The President and Me, 1)

What is my book about?

I wrote George Washington and the Magic Hat, the first in my President and Me time travel series for kids. The protagonist is Sam, a fifth-grader in Bethesda, Maryland, who finds an old tricornered hat on a school field trip to George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon.

The hat ends up taking him on various adventures back in the 18th century. At the same time, Sam is dealing with the fact that he and his best friend are no longer speaking to each other. 

Between Two Thorns

By Emma Newman,

Book cover of Between Two Thorns

Prepare to have your world turned upside down in this peculiar take on the faerie novel. We meet Cathy as a resident of modern England but learn she’s actually an escapee from “The Nether,” a faerie mirror world that’s stuck in the 19th century. As a historian, I absolutely love how Newman moves characters between the worlds—without time travel! And just imagine being in the shoes of a young woman forced to straddle the freedoms that come with modern life with a life with an arranged marriage. And above all, she must appeal to the whims of the faerie lord who controls her family’s fortunes. Come for the premise, but stick around for her deep world-building and richly-drawn characters (I mean, who doesn’t love a talking gargoyle?)


Who am I?

Tales of magic have captivated me since I was a small child, and I started writing fantasy stories in high school. But it was only when I discovered the YA faerie subgenre several years ago that I truly found my niche. As my book recommendations will demonstrate, there’s a delicious connection between faerie magic and teenage angst, and it’s the tension that arises that makes for fantastic worldbuilding and storytelling. I hope that you enjoy my top books in the genre and find a new favorite for yourself!


I wrote...

The Favor Faeries

By Jackie Dana,

Book cover of The Favor Faeries

What is my book about?

The Favor Faeries is my YA fantasy novel series. Everyone knows about the Favor Faeries, mysterious beings that grant small wishes in exchange for trinkets and snacks. But most people claim the faeries are a hoax or a fraud, and the authorities even passed laws making it illegal to seek them out. Teenagers, however, are never particularly good at following the rules, especially when they want something only magic can make happen.

Rather than traditional book publication platforms, I’m serializing the novels on my Substack newsletter Story Cauldron. Each week my paid subscribers receive new chapters as well as related photos, artwork, and behind-the-scenes details sent directly to their email, and they can also be read on the website. As the books conclude, paid members also have the option to download the text in full before it gets published elsewhere.

Playing Beatie Bow

By Ruth Park,

Book cover of Playing Beatie Bow

Like with my first recommendation, I feel that this book appeals to a desire for adventure that we all had as kids. Who didn’t dream of Time Travel adventures as a kid? And again, as an adult, I have of course come to realize that I’d not last a day if I were to fall into this sort of adventure – and although time travel is supposedly possible, albeit only as a one-way journey due to the nature of time-dilation, the undertaking of such a journey, and the physical aspects of what is involved, I’d never want to do it now. Of course, in Playing Beatie Bow, Abigail’s time travel method is very simple (and impossible), but the trouble she gets into in the past is complicated, complex, and dangerous. The book’s dual settings might not appeal to young readers of today, but its lessons about learning to live…


Who am I?

What can better give expertise on the books one loves than decades of reading? I’ve always had a passion for sympathetic, strong characters, especially women. At the core of all my novels, readers will find a sympathetic and strong heroine. In Girlfriend Trouble, Lian is the catalyst that changes the lives of everyone around her for the better; or, more precisely, Lian’s compassion, wisdom, and serene nature are what change things. I’m probably too idealistic, but it’s better than being a cynic. There’s an element of this in all the books I’ve recommended, and those I’ve written. I like to think there’s more of it in the real world too.


I wrote...

Girlfriend Trouble

By Robert Shaw,

Book cover of Girlfriend Trouble

What is my book about?

Karate Kid meets Wimpy Kid in this YA coming-of-age story.

14-year-old Mikey dreams of the girl he longs to meet; she's so real he can almost reach out and touch her... if he didn't keep waking up and getting in trouble with the school bully. Then Mikey meets Lian in the real world, and she changes everything for everyone. Girlfriend Trouble is a funny, heart-warming story about tolerance, understanding, and the acceptance of the unpopular kids; it's about having self-confidence, self-respect, and respect for one’s peers, and about dealing with bullies both youthful and grown-up.

Imajica

By Clive Barker,

Book cover of Imajica

I believe this is the greatest dark-fantasy novel ever written. Clive Barker is canon in the world of imaginative horror and fantasy, and this magical story balances both genres in exciting and revelatory ways. Gender, greed, and power are central themes in a work that weaves Christianity and sorcery together in extraordinary ways.

Pie ‘oh Pah is one of my favourite literary characters—assassin, magicians’ assistant, lover, sex-worker, and a devout and loyal friend to Gentle. Pie ‘oh Pah transcends any binary understanding of gender. It is their tragic love that drives the narrative and connects the main protagonists Gentle and Judith.

This is a book which has drawn me back to its world many times, and I am not ashamed to admit that Imajica partly inspired my Starblood series.


Who am I?

I'm an anarcho-feminist who has a special interest in magic; I consider it my guilty pleasure. I write dark and gritty stories that delve into gender, trauma, and mental illness, yet discover hope and freedom in the pit of darkness. I'm best known as a horror writer, but it’s more accurate to say that I create dark-fantasy and speculative fiction. My themes reflect the darkness which feels ubiquitous in the world, especially now in this age of extremes and pandemics, but I always search for the glimmer of light, the flame of hope that we can make a better future. I've always been fascinated by the Goth aesthetic and enchanted by post-punk threnodies.


I wrote...

Starblood: The Graphic Novel

By Carmilla Voiez,

Book cover of Starblood: The Graphic Novel

What is my book about?

Satori, an arrogant yet alluring Chaos Magician, is heartbroken when Star tells him it is over. He performs a magical ritual to win her back, but accidentally brings Lilith, Mother of Demons, to Earth. How can Satori survive the demon’s wrath and reclaim the heart of his beloved?

Beautiful and vulnerable, Star has yet to discover her own power and strength. When she falls in love with the enchanting Lilith, her world descends into madness and violence. Satori’s strange world threatened her sanity, what then of Lilith’s? A sensuous story, full of dark fantasy and horror, that offers readers a glimpse into the seedier side of the Gothic subculture in Britain.

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