‘There is no such thing as past or future’: physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics sold over a million copies around the world. Now Rovelli is back to explore the mysteries of time. He tells Charlotte Higgins about student revolution and how his quantum leap began with an acid trip

Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s new book: on the elastic concept of time

What do we know about time? Language tells us that it “passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, washes us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Time flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or creeps or slows or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or landscapes. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, time passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins ...

‘There is no such thing as past or future’: physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics sold over a million copies around the world. Now Rovelli is back to explore the mysteries of time. He tells Charlotte Higgins about student revolution and how his quantum leap began with an acid trip

Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s new book: on the elastic concept of time

What do we know about time? Language tells us that it “passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, washes us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Time flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or creeps or slows or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or landscapes. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, time passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins ...

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson review – a new cultural landmark

The first version of Homer’s groundbreaking work by a woman will change our understanding of it for ever

Homer’s Odyssey, probably composed around 700BC, is one of the oldest poems in the western tradition, with a concomitantly long history of translation. The first into Latin was in the third century BC by a slave called Livius Andronicus. The first into English was by George Chapman in 1614-15; there have been at least 60 others. Now comes the first by a woman.

Emily Wilson’s crisp and musical version is a cultural landmark. Armed with a sharp, scholarly rigour, she has produced a translation that exposes centuries of masculinist readings of the poem. (Wilson studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford – as, full disclosure, did I – and is now a professor of classics at the University of Pennsylvania.) She has also written a work of limpid, fast-moving verse, in English epic’s ...

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson review – a new cultural landmark

The first version of Homer’s groundbreaking work by a woman will change our understanding of it for ever

Homer’s Odyssey, probably composed around 700BC, is one of the oldest poems in the western tradition, with a concomitantly long history of translation. The first into Latin was in the third century BC by a slave called Livius Andronicus. The first into English was by George Chapman in 1614-15; there have been at least 60 others. Now comes the first by a woman.

Emily Wilson’s crisp and musical version is a cultural landmark. Armed with a sharp, scholarly rigour, she has produced a translation that exposes centuries of masculinist readings of the poem. (Wilson studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford – as, full disclosure, did I – and is now a professor of classics at the University of Pennsylvania.) She has also written a work of limpid, fast-moving verse, in English epic’s ...

Arnold Bennett: poet of the Potteries

His output includes wonderfully bold characters and transforms the sullen Stoke landscape – 150 years after his birth, it’s time his reputation was restoredIn the exhibition devoted to Arnold Bennett at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery – marking the 150th anniversary of the author’s birth, this month – are, alongside a display of his watercolours, some curious ephemera. Here are his glove stretchers, his shoe horn and his button-hook implements. Here is his grooming brush, presumably for the neatening of his good head of hair, which, coupled with his lavish moustache, did much to dampen the effect of his receding chin and protruding teeth. Here are his razors, the cut-throat rather than the safety variety. He was given them in 1900 by someone with the initials JLCT, as we learn from a silver plaque on their case. That was the year he turned 33, left his job, moved ...

Sounds and Sweet Airs by Anna Beer review – the forgotten women of classical music

Both Mendelssohns were composers, yet it is Felix not Fanny who is remembered. Why have so many female artists remained unheard? In the 1980s a retired urban planner of Johannesburg named Aaron Cohen, with no musicological training but with a great love of music, began publishing his Encyclopedia of Women Composers. In two volumes, it contained around 5,000 entries. Even allowing for the fact that many of these women’s scores were lost, the concert-goer of today would be forgiven for expressing surprise at the sheer number here, for it is certainly not reflected in programmes. You could, without too much difficulty, pass through an entire concert-going life without hearing a single note written by a woman. This is despite recuperative efforts by individual musicians (for example, Oliver Knussen’s recordings of the remarkable American modernist Ruth Crawford Seeger), and a flourishing of feminist musicology from the late 1980s. The ...

Norway has learned nothing from Anders Breivik massacre, says author

Åsne Seierstad, author of a detailed study of the killer and his background, tells Edinburgh book festival audience ‘we are hiding it under a carpet’

Norway has learned nothing from the terrible events of 22 July 2011, when Anders Breivik killed 77 young people on the island of Utøya, according to Norwegian author and journalist Åsne Seierstad.

“We are hiding it under the carpet and I don’t think we have learned anything from it,” the writer told the Edinburgh international book festival.

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Tom Holland interview: Caligula, vampires and coping with death threats

The bestselling historian talks Islam, Twitter storms and the lurid world of the Roman empire

Tom Holland is, excitably, showing me his latest acquisition, in his high-ceilinged study in south London. Ten shelves of books soar up above us, from tomes on sexual practice in the ancient world to Fred Donner’s Narratives of Islamic Origins. Above his desk is a reproduction of a lovely 15th-century fresco of the young Cicero reading, and laid here and there are reproduction military helmets (one, in the Roman style, elaborately plumed), a shield and a cricket bat. The last relates to Holland’s second obsession, aside from history: he is an ardent member of the Authors XI, and is much pained to have missed a recent match against the Thespian Thunderers.

The new toy, which he fetches from a tiny vitrine occupied by pottery shards and other small treasures, is a gold coin minted ...

Julian Barnes to co-curate exhibition of French painter Félix Vallotton

The writer, whose latest work is a series of art essays, tells Edinburgh book festival audience he is helping to stage Royal Academy show

Julian Barnes has been nominated for the Man Booker prize four times and won it once; he is an essayist and memoirist par excellence. Now, however, he is trying his hand at yet another discipline: art curating. He is in the early stages of co-organising an exhibition of works by the late 19th-century Swiss painter, Félix Vallotton, for the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) in London, he told an audience at the Edinburgh international book festival.

Related: Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art review – Julian Barnes looks at the great painters afresh

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Journeys in literature: The Odyssey by Homer – the first step

The sea that separates Odysseus from home was the lifeblood of ancient Greece. Homer’s story of return takes us on a journey that goes beyond geography


This is the first one, the big one, the ur-road movie: the Odyssey. Homer’s poem tells of Odysseus’s decade-long attempt to return to his home island of Ithaca – a “man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy”. (Robert Fagles’ translation for Penguin, which I recommend.)

Here’s some context. Banish the thoughts of modern nation-state Greece and think instead of the Hellenes as they were, a widely scattered, littoral people, linked by language and custom, spread thinly from Massilia (now Marseille, founded by the Greeks in about 600BC) to the Black Sea. Edith Hall’s book Introducing the Ancient Greeks reminds me that Plato said his people liked to live ...

Prejudice and a BBC pioneer – the amazing story of Grace Wyndham Goldie

At the BBC in the 1940s and 50s, Goldie invented TV formats that are still used today. Charlotte Higgins salutes a charismatic, tough-minded woman with an eye for a good programme

On the night of 23 February 1950 the evening’s television began with the usual announcement of the schedule. There would be films, including an American slapstick with Charley Chase, and, as customary, the 9pm news delivered in sound only. But this was an exceptional evening: the night of the general election, with Clement Attlee’s huge 1945 majority contested by Winston Churchill. The turnout that day was an immense 83.9%.

Both TV studios at Alexandra Palace were ready to go after a flurry of preparations and a blizzard of paperwork: in one there were 12ft-tall maps on the walls, as well as a library ladder on wheels, a pointer and sticks of charcoal; in the other, there was a ...