The Current

'Imagine what might have been': Author James Gleick's time travel adventure

The very possibility of travelling back in time, of second chances and missed opportunities, has captured imaginations for centuries. The pull is strong. Join author James Gleick through an excellent adventure through the space-time continuum.
Author James Gleick believes people want time travel to escape fate and have second chances at missed opportunities. (Nick Webb/flickr cc)

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Best-selling author James Gleick believes we all wish we could travel through time as a subversive act of freedom.

Gleick's new book Time Travel: A History looks at time travel in literature and science and says the subversive nature of time travel proved too brazen for the Chinese government, which outlawed time travel books and films in 2011.

"It allows you to imagine what might have been," says Gleick.
Adolf Hitler (Bundesarchiv/Wikimedia Commons)

"Things don't have to be the way they are if you can go back into the past and change things. That's the point of a lot of these time travel fantasies." 

Another time travel fantasy that has been around since the beginning of World War II, has assassins going back to the late 1880's to kill baby Hitler. 

"I guess if you are going to imagine changing the past, there is no more obvious villain," he says. 

"For one reason or another it never works out. I can't think of any science fiction novel where somebody manages to kill baby Hitler and everybody lives happily ever after.

"There is no World War II. There is no holocaust." 

Gleick says if you are planning on hopping into a time machine, don't hold your breath. 

"But I do think that time travel is a reality for all of us in ways that we are able to appreciate ... in ways that our grandparents couldn't have imagined. 

"Now we are traveling through time in our networked lives. We are experiencing the past more and more vividly ... creating the future as we go along."

Listen to the full conversation.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.