book cover

  March 2008

Einstein's Dreams
by Alan Lightman

[ Barnes and Nobles Book Summary ]


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.

About the Author

(From his MIT website)

Lightman was born in Memphis Tennessee in 1948, son of Richard Lightman, a movie theater owner, and Jeanne Garretson, a dancing teacher and volunteer Braille typist. From an early age, he was entranced by both science and the arts and, while in high school, began independent science projects and writing poetry. He graduated from White Station High School in Memphis. Lightman received his AB degree in physics from Princeton University in 1970, Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude, and his PhD in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1974. He has received three honorary degrees.

From 1974 to 1976, Lightman was a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics at Cornell. During this period, he began publishing poetry in small literary magazines. He was an assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard from 1976 to 1979 and from 1979 to 1989 a research scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

In 1981, Lightman began publishing essays about science, the human side of science, and the "mind of science," beginning with Smithsonian Magazine and moving to Science 82, The New Yorker, and other magazines. Since that time, Lightman's essays, short fiction, and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The Atlantic Monthly, Boston Review, Daedalus, Discover, Exploratorium, Granta, Harper's, Harvard Magazine, Inc Technololgy, Nature, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, Science 86, The Sciences, Smithsonian, Story, Technology Review, and World Monitor.

In 1989, Lightman was appointed professor of science and writing, and senior lecturer in physics, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 1991 to 1997, he headed the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT. During this period, he helped create a new Communication Requirement at MIT (first instituted in 2001), which requires all MIT undergraduates to have a course equivalent in writing or speaking each of their four years. In 1995, he was appointed John E. Burchard professor of humanities at MIT, a chair named after the first dean of humanities at MIT (1948 - 1964). In 2001, Lightman cofounded the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT, which accepted its first students in the fall of 2002. In the same year, he resigned his chair to allow more time for his writing and became adjunct professor at MIT.