The Order of Time – A primer on understanding time or a waste of time?

Even the words that we are speaking now
thieving time has stolen away,
and nothing can return.

Upfront I must admit this was one of the most complicated books that I have read this year. And as I end this book, a question comes to my mind. Was this a coherent set of thoughts? Or was it a ramble? Was it a primer on understanding time, or a waste of time? Honestly, I don’t know.

The Order of Time is written by Carlo Rovelli, an Italian theoretical physicist. Rovelli is one of the founders of the loop quantum gravity theory. As the title suggests, the book is on the subject of time and the various theories for understanding time that scientists have developed over the years.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part of the book is called The crumbling of time. Here the author starts out with describing what physics has learnt about the concept of time. Many earlier theories on time have since been debunked by scientists and with each new theory, the concept of time has become more and more complex. To me, it seems that time has become its own nemesis.

The second part is called The World Without Time. This part of the book is a unique one. Here the author tries to describe what a world would be without time. The third is called sources of time. According to the author, this part is “the return journey, back toward the time lost. This third part of the book is what the author claims to be the most difficult. Yes there is an actual warning in the book by the author encouraging the less intellectually minded to skip a couple of chapters because of their dense subject matter.

I would be lying if I said that I understood this book completely. Or at all. To put it out frankly, other than a few paragraphs scattered here and there throughout the book, I felt that a considerable part of the book was above my intellectual payscale. I’m not sure if it is a case of bad writing (or translation. This book was originally written in Italian) or it is simply that the modern concepts of theoretical physics are beyond the reach of the average human brain.

The author has used quite a romantic style of writing with metaphors generously sprinkled throughout the book often between dry facts about time. It is evident that the author cares deeply about the subject and his writing is heartfelt. But I felt a lack of coherence in the treatment or the exploration of the subject. Maybe it was just the technical nature of the content. I simply had to rely on the easier passages to carry me along the book.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, the author goes on one of the strangest digressions I’ve ever come across. The author reminisces about a couple of his teachers, and starts to write an almost personal letter to them, who are since dead. But then he suddenly catches himself realising that he is digressing. I wonder if this was an subconscious stream of thought that the author dived into and apparently the editor chose it interesting enough to retain it.

Benedict Cumberbatch The Order of Time
I guarantee you’ll enjoy my narration even if you don’t understand a bit of it.

One useful tip. If you can, get the audiobook version of the Order of Time. It is read by Benedict Cumberbatch and he does a brilliant job of it. The genius actor makes even the most complicated parts of the book a pleasure to listen to.

All in all, I feel that this book will be suitable for quite a limited audience. Maybe those who are already experts in modern physics or are interested in this subject area would consider this book a worthwhile read. For the rest of us mortals, I’d suggest giving this book a miss. You might as well save your time. If there is indeed such a concept, now that the author has denied it in this book.