Today is the birthday of astrophysicist and author Alan Lightman (books by this author), born in Memphis (1948). He was fascinated by science and by writing, so he decided to do both. He studied physics at Princeton and at the California Institute of Technology. To feed the writer side of his soul, he studied and emulated the essays of E.B. White.
He was the first professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to receive a joint appointment in departments of science and humanities, and he often found himself teaching physics in the morning, then walking across campus to lead a fiction-writing workshop.
In 1992, Lightman published Einstein’s Dreams, a novel that chronicled the dreams Einstein might have had as he worked on his theory of relativity. It was composed of 30 small vignettes, each a separate dream about time. Einstein’s Dreams was an international best-seller. His most recent book is a partly fictionalized memoir called Screening Room (2015), about Lightman’s movie theater mogul grandfather. The Washington Post named it one of the best books of 2015.
From Lightman’s essay collection The Accidental Universe (2014): “I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone.