10 Books to Read if ‘A Brief History of Time’ Was Too Brief for You

The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the debate that changed our understanding of time

Was Einstein Wrong?


“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)