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The Order of Time

Written by: Carlo Rovelli
Narrated by: Benedict Cumberbatch
Length: 4 hrs and 19 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (65 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One of TIME’s 10 best nonfiction books of 2018 

"Meet the new Stephen Hawking...The Order of Time is a dazzling book." (The Sunday Times)

From the best-selling author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, comes a concise, elegant exploration of time.

Why do we remember the past and not the future? What does it mean for time to "flow"? Do we exist in time or does time exist in us? In lyric, accessible prose, Carlo Rovelli invites us to consider questions about the nature of time that continue to puzzle physicists and philosophers alike.

For most listeners, this is unfamiliar terrain. We all experience time, but the more scientists learn about it, the more mysterious it remains. We think of it as uniform and universal, moving steadily from past to future, measured by clocks. Rovelli tears down these assumptions one by one, revealing a strange universe where at the most fundamental level time disappears. He explains how the theory of quantum gravity attempts to understand and give meaning to the resulting extreme landscape of this timeless world. Weaving together ideas from philosophy, science, and literature, he suggests that our perception of the flow of time depends on our perspective, better understood starting from the structure of our brain and emotions than from the physical universe.

Already a best seller in Italy, and written with the poetic vitality that made Seven Brief Lessons on Physics so appealing, The Order of Time offers a profoundly intelligent, culturally rich, novel appreciation of the mysteries of time.

©2018 Carlo Rovelli (P)2018 Penguin Audio

What the critics say

"[Benedict Cumberbatch's] velvety bass voice is a delight to listen to - comforting and companionable, with perfect cadences to signal when the difficult concepts he's speaking about need extra attention (or a 30-second skip-back to hear again). The result is a performance that feels like a conversation with Professor Rovelli himself steadily guiding you as he dismantles all notions of time and helps you rebuild your understanding of it." (AudioFile)

“Highly original.... Chapter by chapter, Rovelli shows how modern physics has annihilated common understandings of time...the many other excellent explanations of science, the heart and humanity of the book, its poetry and its gentle tone raise it to the level and style of such great scientist-writers as Lewis Thomas and Rachel Carson.” (Alan Lightman, New York Times Book Review)

“An elegant grapple with one of physics’ deepest mysteries.... A masterly writer.... In this little gem of a book, Mr. Rovelli first demolishes our common-sense notion of time...an ambitious book that illuminates a thorny question, that succeeds in being a pleasurable read.” (Wall Street Journal)  

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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A beautiful work

At times difficult to follow as I lack a background in physics, but thoroughly enjoyed the topic. the last few chapters were actually quite heartwarming.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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More like this please

Stimulating, clear, and nicely written. It's really great when scientists can write and Carlo Rovelli is one of them. i would say it's the right balance between physics and philosophy.
And having Benedict Cumberbatch as a narrator makes this book so pleasing to listen to.

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Not for the average human

I was hoping to be able to grasp some of the content of this book but it's way over my head. If you are not a physicist or if you are looking for a book to learn about the concept of time, this is probably not a good start. On the other hand, if you are quite familiar with quantum mechanics, then you will definitely enjoy this book.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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performance is bad

Performer's voice is not suitable for audiobook performance. This is the first time I'm complaining about performance.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Raymond
  • 2018-05-15

Brain Workout With A Great Narrator

You better have your thinking cap on, cause this one will make you do just that... although, not in a bad way. If you aren't at least somewhat familiar with the language of quantum mechanics, or theoretical physics, this may be a tough listen. I listened to the entire book while driving from my home in Utah to Denver, sometimes rewinding to catch key concepts.
Benedict Cumberbatch is phenomenal, bringing the passion of the author to the narration with ease. I plan to find more books with Cumberbatch as the narrator; ad well, I plan to listen to others by Rovelli.

28 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • Mike
  • 2018-05-11

Rovelli is a Genius

If you've never read Rovelli, read this book. If you have read Rovelli and are wondering if you'll learn anything new from this book, you will indeed.

Rovelli fairly destroys the very popular conception of a 4D block universe, which imagines that outside of our own existence, the universe exists as an unchanging monolith of all space and time. He does this by driving home the fact that there is no present, no universal now for all observers (where observers are not just consciousnesses). Rovelli's assertion that there is no present is not new to this book, but it does come alive here. If all of reality is truly interactions interacting locally, how can there possibly be a universal now? There can not.

What is absolutely new here is Rovelli's genius explanation for why entropy was universally lower in the past. If you've read any of Sean Carroll's books, you know this is the real question when asking "why does time seem to flow forward" (where time here is equivalent to Rovelli's thermal time - since at base there is no time). Physicists generally agree that the arrow of time is fully explained by the fact that entropy was low in the past. But not even the mighty Dr Carroll attempts to explain this. Rovelli's answer is dazzling. You must read the book for the full explanation, but Rovelli's metaphor to an unshuffled deck of cards hits home. What does it *really* mean that the deck is unshuffled? :-)

As usual, Rovelli packs into one short book what will surely take generations to fully unpack. Perhaps I'll not be around when our children and their children fully flesh this out. But what an immensely enjoyable thing to be here "now" ;-p

47 of 48 people found this review helpful

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  • Joshua Book
  • New York
  • 2018-06-12

Pretty spectacular - narration & content

I don't often write reviews but this one warrants it for me. Carlo Rovelli, one of modern physics best communicators, writes this exceptionally written book, our latest take on the nature of time. It is frequently mind-blowing and yet not impossible to understand. It's even quite moving, personal, and poetic at times. It's one of the rare books that has really altered the way I can look at the world unfolding around me.

Then there's the narration which makes this piece really special. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, you get the feeling like Sherlock Holmes is explaining to you the intimate mysteries of the universe. It works splendidly. Cumberbatch's voice is clear and kept me riveted. I would really love to see more audiobooks produced this way, where the narration is done by someone with some real acting chops.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Philomath
  • 2018-05-16

Times described in poetic physics

This is a beautiful book describing the mystery of time eliminated by an outstanding Cumberbatch narration.

It is only fitting that time, the phenomena, the one thing that everyone talks about but can’t describe, is summarised by a quantum gravity specialist, when most physicist are focusing on the ever elusive string theory.

Probably one of the best books on time I’ve read and certainly an unusual marriage of romance and physics, letting us know how little we know.

Some of the insightful perspectives of time, which I haven’t found in other books makes this book a must for anyone interested in its scientific properties. Easy to listen to for anyone.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Scott
  • Santa Clara, CA, United States
  • 2018-07-29

What's missing is the physics

Carlo Rovelli is a fascinating man. Steeped in the physics of loop quantum gravity, and in the philosophy and psychology of time. This book is a kind of poetry about time. It seems that, in the absence of a provable theory of time, we'll have to settle for this kind of poetry.
I found the book lacking. Not because I don't like poetry, but rather because I was hoping for more physics. There are recent speculations on the directionality of time that weren't discussed, and it seems to me that these are important in a contemporary book about time.
It should be said that I'm an advocate for Block Time, and found Rovelli's dismissal of it to be illogical. Simply stating that time is a sequence of events doesn't even address the issue of block time, let alone add clarity to the nature of time itself.
On balance, because Rovelli is such a compelling thinker and provides real insights into the nature of time, this book is worthwhile. Be prepared, however. This is not a book on the connection between quantum gravity and time, rather it is a book on the philosophical nature of time, and how each of creates time at the intersection of memory and anticipation in our brains.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Joseph L. Moore
  • on a corner in Winslow, AZ
  • 2018-05-12

Perfect! Must Read!

I’ve been looking for a book like this over twenty years. Wonderful and insightful. It runs the gamut from Newtonian to Einsteinian to Thermal, memory and experiential time. I’m going to have to read it again.

****** UPDATE ******

It's a year later and I've read this book FOUR times. I never read books twice. Enjoy.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Elaine Jackson
  • 2018-06-07

Time

What is time and every question you never thought about it, is answered or asked. Time may just be the reason and answer to life, after listening to this author.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Tyler Haynes
  • 2018-05-28

Cumberbatch is the Perfect Narrerator!

THE BOOK:

This book goes into some VERY complex theories on time. I can ultimately say that I walked away from this book actually learning some things. But, there were a few passages where I had to rewind and listen again, because they were SO in-depth on this subject, that frankly, we as human beings, TRULY don't understand fully. So it was pretty fun exploring Carlo Rovelli's theories on The Order of Time. The man is a genious!

THE NARRERATOR:

Benedict Cumberbatch could read the phonebook and I'd enjoy it. He has one of the best reading voices that I've ever had the privilege of listening too. I hope he does more audio books in the near future, because I will purchase every one of them. Even though it is under 5 hours in length, based on the quality of the production, and some of the beautiful prose that are within the book, it is well worth 1 credit. I will definitely listen to this again and again.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Chris Akers
  • 2018-05-15

About time!

I like Carlo Rovelli's voice. His narration of Seven Brief Lessons is very personal and I have no trouble understanding him. When he was replaced as narrator for his next book, Reality Is Not What It Seems, I was disappointed even though that narrator did a fine job. So how did Mr. Cumberbatch do? Listen for yourself. (Of course he nails it!)

As for the content, Time as a subject is hot these days. The nature of time as explored in Physics, Philosophy, Psychology or Cultural Studies is diverse and divisive. If you start to look around, you will find that you can chase that rabbit down a path in each direction you can think of. There are too many to name here. However, I think this particular hole is possibly all most people will need. It digs deep enough into the physics of it, seasons it with a bit of temporal philosophy and presents it poetically. Here is the heart of it: Time matters to those creatures whose very being, or becoming, are made of it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Mank
  • California
  • 2018-11-17

Cumberbatch makes a great book shine

Not only has Rovelli written an interesting book, he’s a very good writer and he loves the story he tells. Benedict Cumberbatch Is exactly the right narrator to highlight this. His delivery is clear and understandable, and his intelligence is apparent. This is one of the best Audible books on science for a layperson I have listened to. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in current popular physics and cosmology, especially regarding the emergence of time in the universe, which is one of Rovelli’s special areas of interest.

edit: there is a suggestion at one point to skip a few of the more complex chapters. Don't do this. I had to relisten to several passages repeatedly to ensure I understood them, but it is well worth it. These chapters are the meat of the book and it is worth the effort to understand what he is talking about. Just concentrate, rewind and listen; all the fun is in these ideas.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful