I recently finished reading an awesome book, and I felt that I should share my experience with you all. As an educator, one of the things I enjoy most is sharing interesting finds on the internet with my students, and It’s about time is definitely one of them. If you are interested in physics, you may also like to check out these YouTube channels — Up and Atom and The Mechanical Universe — I guarantee you, it will be more satisfying that binging on Netflix!
Now back to the book! “It’s About Time” by David Mermin is an absolute must-read if you’re are interested in physics, time, or just looking for a thought-provoking adventure. In the rest of this post, I will talk about my experience with the book, and why I find it so interesting. I will try to avoid spoilers as much as I can.
As you dive into the first few chapters, the author takes you by the hand and introduces you to the fascinating world of special relativity. With Mermin’s accessible and engaging writing style, you’ll be hooked from the very beginning. Any preconceived notions that physics is dull or intimidating will be gone as you begin reading this book — the storytelling style of the book makes these complex concepts feel like an interesting novel.
That being said, this is definitely not a novel, and you will want to have a pen and paper handy so that you can follow along with the examples mentioned in the book — otherwise you will not get the maximum benefit from reading it. The book promises to need nothing more than high school algebra to explain the core concepts of relatively, and I can tell you that the author delivers on this.
One of the things I loved most about this book is the way Mermin breaks down the principles of time dilation and length contraction. Can you imagine time slowing down as you move faster? Or objects becoming shorter as they approach the speed of light? Mermin presents these mind-boggling concepts in a way that’s easy to understand and leaves you wanting more. That eureka moment that you get when you work through his thought experiments and simple algebra is, to me at least, equivalent to a dopamine rush.
Speaking of thought experiements, the book uses them extensively. Throughout “It’s About Time,” Mermin presents various scenarios that will challenge your ideas of time and space. One of my favorites involves a train, a tunnel, and two observers – trust me, it’s mind-bending stuff! I won’t give away more to avoid spoilers. These experiments will leave you pondering the nature of reality and questioning your own perceptions. They will also leave you with an intuitive understanding of some of the most complex concepts in physics.
What makes this book so approachable is its informal tone, which makes you feel like you’re having a casual chat with the author. And don’t worry if you’re not good at math — Mermin has a knack for explaining complex equations without overwhelming you with jargon. It’s the perfect balance of depth and accessibility to keep you engaged. Like he promises, you won’t need more than high school algebra to follow along.
While most of the book is about special relativity, he does have a chapter on general relativity that you will also find very interesting — prepare yourself to understand the concepts that are behind back holes and wormholes. Of course, he does not cover general relatively as extensively as special relativity, but it is still a very good introduction to the topic.
I also appreciated how Mermin touches on the philosophical implications of time and relativity. As you ponder the nature of time, you’ll find yourself questioning your own existence and your place in the cosmos. This book truly has the power to expand your mind and shift your perspective on life.
Now, I know some of you might be thinking, “I’m not a physicist, is this book really for me?” I’m here to assure you that “It’s About Time” is perfect for anyone who loves learning and has a passion for exploring the unknown. Whether you’re new to the world of physics or a seasoned enthusiast, this book has something for everyone.
Trust me, if you read only one book on relativity, this is the one you should read. It will expand your mind, and allow you to consider things in a completely different light. It even allowed me to understand concepts outside relativity to a greater degree — the first chapter opens with some intuitive examples that allow you to reason about Newtonian physics using a special relativity framework. It’s very interesting stuff, read the book, it is awesome!