10 Books to Read if “A Brief History of Time” Was Too Brief Undark Top 10 Books About Time  The Guardian Books of the Year for 2016 The Tablet Best Science Books in 2015 Science Friday, NPR, Public Radio International, Brainpickings Top Reads of 2015 The Independent   







The Physicist and the Philosopher

Physicist and Philosopher “Extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging … a fascinating, highly significant debate that is still relevant in an age which has begun uneasily to question the hegemony of science and its uncontrollable child, technology. … admirable for its clarity.” –John Banville, London Review of Books

“A gripping read … towering intellectual, cultural and political history … a carefully crafted novel, written immensely elegantly throughout.” —Juljan Krause, Phenomenological Reviews

“It’s hard to imagine that any single author will ever outdo this account of the recent history of our concepts of time.”–Chris Nunn, Journal of Consciousness Studies.

“A masterwork of cultural forensics”Maria Popova

“Relativity is one of the most overfished streams in the history of science… I was skeptical that Jimena Canales would be able land new catch from such thoroughly exploited waters. The physicist and the philosopher proved that skepticism misplaced.”–Joseph D. Martin, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science

“A monument to precise scholarship, an exemplar of logical clarity, and a fine example of excellent writing. I have rarely learned more
from a book.”–P.A.Y. Gunter, Physics in Perspective

“Bergson challenged Einstein’s theories … an incendiary topic [that] shaped a split between science and humanities that persisted for decades—though Einstein was generally seen as the winner and Bergson is all but forgotten.” —Nancy Szokan, Washington Post

“Canales does sterling work investigating these engagements . . . [A] stimulating book.” —Graham Farmelo, Nature

“This humane and melancholy account of how two talents misunderstood each other will linger in the mind.”–New Scientist

“In 1922, Einstein and the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, went head to head in one of the most important, but least well-remembered, clashes between science and philosophy of the last century. The reputation of Bergson went into eclipse as Einstein airily dismissed 2,500 years of thought with the throwaway remark “philosophical time does not exist”. The Physicist and the Philosopher by Jimena Canales is a gripping critique of Einstein’s thought and a convincing rehabilitation of Bergsonian time, freed from the tyranny of mathematics.” Hilary Davies, Books of the Year 2016, The Tablet

“Sparks—both incendiary and illuminating—fly from the collision of two giants!”—Booklist, starred review

“In illuminating a historic 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson about the nature of time, Canales marks a turning point in the power of philosophy to influence science.” —Publishers Weekly

“[Canales] weaves a tale around Europe and to America. . . . [Her] subject raises important core philosophical issues, like the scope of philosophy itself.” —Michael Ruse, Chronicle of Higher Education

“Fascinating. . . . Canales has done a masterful job of research and explication. Her account of the debate is lively, the background of it is interesting, and the debate’s ramifications as filtered through other minds are downright exciting.” —Kelly Cherry, Smart Set

“Brilliant.”—James Gleick, Bits in the Ether

“Like a stone cast on still waters, the Einstein-Bergson debate on the nature of time set off ever-widening ripples in physics and philosophy, but also in art, politics, and religion. In this fascinating book, Canales has written a kind of alternative intellectual history of the interwar decades of the twentieth century, one full of color and improbable conjunctions of people and ideas.”–Lorraine Daston, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

“Is time too important to be left to the physicists and their measuring devices? That was the issue at stake in a 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and philosopher Henri Bergson, celebrated at the time and wonderfully recovered in Jimena Canales’s new book. A fascinating look at a pivotal moment in how we think about one of the most fundamental features of the universe.”–Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time

“Sometimes past battles have repercussions that resonate long after memories have faded. In dramatic fashion, Jimena Canales demonstrates how a seemingly forgotten debate between Einstein and Bergson about the enigma of time changed the course of intellectual history.”–Palle Yourgrau, Brandeis University

“Whether readers side with Einstein’s physics or Bergson’s philosophy isn’t the most important thing: this book opens up new ways of thinking about the relationship between science and the humanities that unsettle both.”–Gerald Holton, Harvard University

“This exciting, hugely interesting book opens out from a short but critical encounter between the philosopher Henri Bergson and the physicist Albert Einstein to consider their philosophies and the effects of their argument on the modern idea of time. Canales turns what is at first sight a limited debate into a major transatlantic encounter of profound implications. Well-researched, well-argued, and elegant, The Physicist and the Philosopher is a first-rate work of scholarship.”–Stefanos Geroulanos, New York University

The Physicist and the Philosopher is a lively and engaging account of the meaning of time in the twentieth century. Canales uses the 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson as a starting point from which to discuss an astonishing array of thinkers, technologies, and cultural developments. The book is an innovative, rich, and almost encyclopedic exploration of a crucially important question.”–Edward Baring, author of The Young Derrida and French Philosophy, 1945–1968

Recommended by Scientific American and VIMAgazion (in Greek translation)

pubPraise for A Tenth of a Second: A History

Top 10 Books About Time  The Guardian

“An extraordinary example of multidisciplinary inquiry … wonderfully composed and delightfully illustrated. A Tenth of a Second is suitable for upper-level undergraduate classes in the history of science and would enhance a range of graduate reading lists, especially ones concerning modernity, the history of science, and the history of photography. Canales should be congratulated for rescuing a tenth of a second from basketball arenas and racetracks; she has shown that its scholarly significance is quite simply astonishing.”–McCrossen, Alexis. “Review” Technology and Culture Vol 52, (2011), pp. 212-213.

““We live in a tenth-of-a-second world,” Thomas Edison’s electrical engineer Arthur Kennelly mused. That unit is roughly human reaction time and, as measurement technologies improved, this bodily lag from stimulus to response became a vexing matter of observational interference. Jimena Canales ably shows it was brought to a head by astronomers recording the transit of Venus in 1874: precisely timing anything through an eyepiece was bedevilled by human error. …a thoughtful look at the all-too-human perceptual complications facing objective observation.”–Collins, Paul. “Tick tock,” New Scientist (24 October 2009) Issue 2731, p. 49.

“An ambitious and complex story of techno-physiological modernity as told through the lens of one such modern man/machine- effect: reaction time. Or, in more dramatic terms, the story it tells revolves around that epistemologically worrisome exposure of the non-instantaneity of cognition, its ineluctable ‘temporality’… What is more, Canales is making good use of it, somewhat reminiscent of the biography-of-a-scientific-object literature, in order to bring together a range of indisputably crucial scenes and figures in matters of Modernity—some of them familiar, others less so. Covering a period roughly from 1800 into the 1920s, in its six highly readable chapters,

A Tenth of a Second thus moves elegantly across pertinent developments in the realms of physics, psychology and physiology, weaving, along the way, a number of narrative threads between them—not to mention the multitude of cross-references to the history of photography, cinema, and the philosophy of science; precision instruments (or metrology) naturally loom large in this story of ‘micro-temporality’, as do such all-time favorites as Hermann von Helmholtz, Étienne-Jules Marey, and Henri Bergson.

A Tenth of a Second is … unusually well crafted and intelligent”–Max Stadler, Aestimatio 9 (2012): 374–381.

“Canales’s central argument is that microtime underpinned a multitude of scientific and cultural phenomena, and a great strength of her book is the careful, nuanced exploration of these moments of emergence and the seemingly endless debates they generated. The history she reveals is complex and surprising.

This is a rich and fascinating study, which carries Canales into all kinds of interesting areas. A Tenth of a Second, like the earlier work of Jonathan Crary, has revealed hidden dimensions to the histories of science, perception, and psychology. With its sophisticated, cross-disciplinary focus, A Tenth of a Second deserves the widest possible readership.”–Otter, Chris. Victorian Studies Vol 54, (2012), pp. 314-316.

“This scintillating book recounts a nearly century-long obsession with the ‘sacred 0.1 seconds’, from around 1850 to the eve of the Second World War.

Canales examines debates over relativity from the vantage point of this history, opening some remarkable new vistas on well-trodden historical terrain.

Canales’ history of the tenth of a second makes a major contribution to this project. She shows how Baudelaire’s oft-cited notion of modernity – the ‘ephemeral, fleeting, the contingent’, which nevertheless recaptured ‘something eternal’- echoed the scientists’ quest to find a stable natural constant in a dynamic and evanescent world.

It should – at least for a moment – set a new historiographic standard for many to follow.”–Brain, Robert. “Review,” Centaurus Vol. 52, Issue 4, (2011), pp. 353-355.

“A Tenth of a Second is an example of the new urbanism: a multi-function building, like several recently erected on my campus, with retail shops and cafés on the ground floor, classrooms or computer labs justabove, and dormitory space on the upper levels. The multiple uses are meant to encourage vibrancy in the surrounding neighborhood, but also to maximize the use of space. Canales explores how a single concept functioned in several different scientific and cultural discourses in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Is this a history of astronomy, physics, physiology, or psychology? All of the above. The prose is efficient, yet full of colorful detail.”–Beyler, Richard H. “Three Ways to Spend Some Time in the Historiographical Metropolis,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences Vol 41, (2012), pp. 354-364.

“Recommend most readily this fascinating study of an intellectual entity that bound together a wide range of nineteenth and twentieth- century sciences.”Lawrence, Christopher. Annals of Science, Volume 70, Issue 1, 2013, pp. 122-123.

“The author’s style, while scholarly, is fluid, making successive arguments logical and reasonable and, of all things unexpected, entertaining.  … a crisp, well argued style makes the reading highly informative and enjoyable. I read the book at one sitting. It retained my interest throughout that time and I recommend it without reservation.”–Ian Lipke, M/C Reviews

“In this significant contribution to the cultural history of time, Jimena Canales follows the career of the tenth of a second in astronomy, physiology, psychology, art and technology, physics, and philosophy from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Her book is a wide-ranging and thoroughly researched study, based on an impressive range of published and archival sources.

… a splendid book. … A Tenth of a Second deserves a wide readership.”–Arabatzis, Theodore. ISIS: Journal of the History of Science in Society Vol 72, (2012), pp. 774-775.

Additional Reviews/Mentions:

Beer, Gillian. “Mathematics: Alice in time,” Nature Vol. 479, (2011), pp. 38-39.

Gherab Martín, Karim “En un abrir y cerrar de ojos,” Revista de Libros No 171, (2011)

Schickore, Jutta. The American Historical Review Vol 117, (2012), pp. 825-826.

About Jimena Canales:

Frank, Adam. “Was Einstein Wrong?” NPR (16 February 2016).

Cooper, Alix. “Thinking About Looking,” American Scientist (July-August 2011).

Daston, Lorraine. “Suddenly” in Olafur Eliasson. Innen Stadt Aussen. Inner City Out. Edited by Daniel Birnbaum (Walther Koning: Koln), p. 164-167.

Wellmann, Janina. “Introduction: Science and Cinema” Science in Context  24 (2011).

Latour, Bruno. “Some Experiments in Art and Politics,” E-Flux Journal (March 2011) 23: pp. 1-7.

Guerlac, Suzanne. “Thinking in time: Henri Bergson (an interdisciplinary conference),” MLN Vol 120 (2005), pp. 1091-1098.

Unreal Nature


New Scientist

Education reviews