In what seems an attempt to join the ranks of bestselling science writers like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, Thorne (Physics/Caltech) turns out a whopper covering everything from ``The Warping of Time and Space'' to ``Ripples of Curvature'' and ``Wormholes and Time Machines.'' Throughout, he remains resolutely chipper, chirpy, and personably anecdotal. The strange, folksy drawings here contribute to the effect of familiarity, which sometimes does its job and sometimes does not. It is undoubtedly useful to find yourself chatted through a potted history of 20th-century physics in so charming and lucid a manner: the problem, though, is to whom the volume is addressed. Hawking's book had plenty of theory, but it was short and elegantly elliptical, letting you think that you grasped its contents even if you didn't--a delusion that may lie at the heart of many a popular science book's success. Here, however, the reader has to wade through many, many pages of theory and diagrams--obvious to the expert but to difficult for the lay reader. Thorne in fact is strongest for the novice reader when dealing with the history of the physics community, which he presents entertainingly and clearly, allowing its peculiar personalities to emerge living and breathing--perhaps as much as a book of this kind can do within its audience's limiting parameters. Even so, in choosing a compact mini-encyclopedia of 20th- century physics, one could do far worse than this one, with its breadth of information even including exactly how it is that time does hook itself up to a wormhole.