Born in Memphis on November 28, 1948, to parents Richard and Jeanne Garretson Lightman, Alan P. Lightman is a distinguished author of scientific writings and critically acclaimed novels. Lightman grew up in Memphis, where he learned a love for both the arts and the sciences. He graduated from White Station High School. Lightman then attended Princeton University, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1970. Four years later, Lightman had earned his doctorate in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology. He was a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics at Cornell University between 1974 and 1976, then taught at Harvard as an assistant professor of astronomy from 1976 to 1979. For the next ten years Lightman was a research scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In 1989 Lightman became professor of science and writing and senior lecturer in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Lightman's major scientific writings include two textbooks, Problem Book in Relativity and Gravitation (1975) and Radioactive Processes in Astrophysics (1979), and several general audience science books including Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipe (1984); A Modern-Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court and other Essays on Science (1986); Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists (1990); Ancient Light: Our Changing View of the Universe (1991); Great Ideas in Physics (1992); and Dance for Two: Selected Essays (1996). In these latter books Lightman strives to show that literature and science need not be two distinct worlds, rarely illuminating each other. For this effort to link the sciences and humanities, the American Institute of Physics awarded Lightman its Andrew Gemant Award in 1996. Lightman is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1989) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1996).
His novels, Einstein's Dreams (1993), Good Benito (1995), and The Diagnosis (2000), demonstrate how Lightman's background as a scientist influences his creative writing. Of the three, Einstein's Dreams–a series of vignettes where the author speculates on how Einstein reinvented the modern scientific world in his head–has been the most successful. The quasi-autobiographical Good Benito, however, may give us the best account of how Memphis shaped its author.
Lightman lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He married Jean Greenblatt, a painter, in 1976, and they have two children, Elyse and Kara.