Coming of Age in the Milky Way
From the second-century celestial models of Ptolemy to modern-day research institutes and quantum theory, this classic book offers a breathtaking tour of astronomy and the brilliant, eccentric personalities who have shaped it. From the first time mankind had an inkling of the vast space that surrounds us, those who study the universe have had to struggle against political and religious preconceptions. They have included some of the most charismatic, courageous, and idiosyncratic thinkers of all time. In Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris uses his unique blend of rigorous research and captivating narrative skill to draw us into the lives and minds of these extraordinary figures, creating a landmark work of scientific history.

Coming of Age in the Milky Way Details

TitleComing of Age in the Milky Way
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 29th, 2003
PublisherHarper Perennial
ISBN-139780060535957
Rating
GenreScience, Nonfiction, History, Astronomy, Physics

Coming of Age in the Milky Way Review

  • Gendou
    January 1, 1970
    Light on science, heavy on the history of cosmology.It's a nice, short read.There is, however, one horrible mistake.Ferris credits Christian creation mythology with contributing the idea of a beginning to time.There is no historical (or logical) basis for this.The theory that the universe began a finite time in the past was a natural outcome of the distance-correlated redshift of extra-galactic objects.It is irrelevant to the history of scientific progre Light on science, heavy on the history of cosmology.It's a nice, short read.There is, however, one horrible mistake.Ferris credits Christian creation mythology with contributing the idea of a beginning to time.There is no historical (or logical) basis for this.The theory that the universe began a finite time in the past was a natural outcome of the distance-correlated redshift of extra-galactic objects.It is irrelevant to the history of scientific progress what beliefs some desert religion happen to hold before the invention of the telescope.Religion can NEVER contribute scientific progress.It can only HINDER science by defaming (Charles Darwin), torturing (Galileo Galilei), and outright killing (Giordano Bruno) scientific thinkers.
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  • Moire
    January 1, 1970
    I had always meant to read this book, but somehow I never had gotten around to it. But I decided recently that, while I spend all day thinking about astronomy (as an astronomy grad student), it might be good to get a "popular science" take on some of these topics so that I can actually speak intelligibly about astronomy with non-astronomy folks. Despite the fact that some of the later chapters are out-of-date on the astronomy and physics results, this was a very fun read. The first section on hi I had always meant to read this book, but somehow I never had gotten around to it. But I decided recently that, while I spend all day thinking about astronomy (as an astronomy grad student), it might be good to get a "popular science" take on some of these topics so that I can actually speak intelligibly about astronomy with non-astronomy folks. Despite the fact that some of the later chapters are out-of-date on the astronomy and physics results, this was a very fun read. The first section on historical astronomy was particularly fun; it was very similar to the astronomy class I took in high school that got me into the field in the first place. Ferris does a very nice job of conveying the material more or less accurately, while also making it approachable for the lay audience. The one quibble I would have is that people like Caroline Herschel, Maria Mitchell, Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin, Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Jump Cannon (got the pattern yet?) didn't get as much attention relative to others as they deserve given their contributions to the field. This was particularly noticeable to me because I had just read a biography of Maria Mitchell and was in the middle of a biography of Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin. It is one of those amazing things - some of the most important discoveries in 19th and 20th century astronomy in this country were made by women, most of whom couldn't get PhDs, barely got recognition for their work, and were often discouraged from thinking about the science. Maria Mitchell found a comet, and in so doing single-handedly brought much-needed credibility and prestige to the struggling field of American astronomy and the fledgling Harvard University. Henrietta Leavitt basically solved the biggest problem in astronomy - how to measure distances to distant objects - without which Edwin Hubble could not have made his discovery of the expanding universe. Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin was the first to figure out the puzzle of what stars are truly made of and created what many consider to be the best astronomical thesis ever written.
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  • Tyler
    January 1, 1970
    The perfect layman's guide to the universe. It gets pretty hairy as soon as quantum mechanics take the stage about 3/4 in, especially if you have no background in physics whatsoever (as i certainly don't) but i doubt Ferris could have written about the various quantum theories in a simpler way, at least not without cheating the subject of its inherently complex grace. I came away from this reading experience with not only a renewed interest in astronomy (and science in general, really) but also The perfect layman's guide to the universe. It gets pretty hairy as soon as quantum mechanics take the stage about 3/4 in, especially if you have no background in physics whatsoever (as i certainly don't) but i doubt Ferris could have written about the various quantum theories in a simpler way, at least not without cheating the subject of its inherently complex grace. I came away from this reading experience with not only a renewed interest in astronomy (and science in general, really) but also a greater appreciation for the size of the universe and our relative inconsequence in the grand scheme of things. Exciting stuff.
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  • B. Rule
    January 1, 1970
    I struggle with the rating on this one. The author is inaccurate and dismissive on questions touching on religion and inaccurate and incomplete on matters of women's contributions to science. The book is frustrating in the earlier historical parts because of this. It gets better in the third part, where he waxes rhapsodic about physics, but he's also not nearly as eloquent as he thinks he is. That said, the parts about the "stairway to heaven" describing conditions going back to fractions of a s I struggle with the rating on this one. The author is inaccurate and dismissive on questions touching on religion and inaccurate and incomplete on matters of women's contributions to science. The book is frustrating in the earlier historical parts because of this. It gets better in the third part, where he waxes rhapsodic about physics, but he's also not nearly as eloquent as he thinks he is. That said, the parts about the "stairway to heaven" describing conditions going back to fractions of a second after the Big Bang and the scale of the universe were pretty good. A decent read but there are much better science books out there that cover similar material.
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  • Charlene
    January 1, 1970
    Ferris provides his reader with an extremely abbreviated version of discovery from Columbus through now. There are some aspects of his stories that are lesser known, which makes them quite enjoyable. The layout of the book is really great as well. Not too many books provide a summary of biology and physics in tandem. Adding to that, Ferris keeps each subject brief so that it packs as much information as possible, while remaining fairly uncomplicated. Considering all the positive aspects of this Ferris provides his reader with an extremely abbreviated version of discovery from Columbus through now. There are some aspects of his stories that are lesser known, which makes them quite enjoyable. The layout of the book is really great as well. Not too many books provide a summary of biology and physics in tandem. Adding to that, Ferris keeps each subject brief so that it packs as much information as possible, while remaining fairly uncomplicated. Considering all the positive aspects of this book, I can see why it received the accolades it did. However, historians must have a hard time reading this book. It's not that Ferris kept the descriptions of Newton and Darwin brief. It is more that his representations of the scientists seem to be under researched. If Ferris is going to portray various scientists in a manner that is far different from how just about every other author, whose life work has been to study the biographies of their chosen scientist, has portrayed these scientists, then he is going to need to provide some proof for his alternate version of their personalities. For example, according to Ferris, Newton was humble, didn't care about fame, and instead cared only about the work. This would describe Darwin but not Newton. When describing Newton's reputation as a "monster", Ferris seems to misunderstand why people called him that. His depiction of Darwin was equally naive. Writing books that are short, easy to understand, and not overly complicated are essential in helping scientific information disseminate into the public at large. Anytime writers choose brevity over jargon-laden prose, a book always trades a bit of accuracy for relatability. That is par for the course. So, my critique is not coming from an ideology that believes books should be both brief and extremely accurate. However, they should strive to be as accurate as possible, not just in relating the science itself, but in portraying the scientists' personalities. If an author does not know enough about the life and personality of the scientists, then the author should just leave them out. It's preferable to an inaccurate portrayal.
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  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    Having had no physics or chemistry beyond the eighth grade, some of this was way beyond me, but it's a testament to Ferris' beautiful prose that I was still able to get the basic gist, finish the book, and get a lot out of it. It's not an easy read, but it just kept blowing my mind and making me think. There are so many great thoughts encapsulated here! If you like to be challenged by science, this is the book for you.On a side note, as a musician, who ostensibly makes beauty for a living, Having had no physics or chemistry beyond the eighth grade, some of this was way beyond me, but it's a testament to Ferris' beautiful prose that I was still able to get the basic gist, finish the book, and get a lot out of it. It's not an easy read, but it just kept blowing my mind and making me think. There are so many great thoughts encapsulated here! If you like to be challenged by science, this is the book for you.On a side note, as a musician, who ostensibly makes beauty for a living, who feels called to put it out into the world for the sake of humanity, it was really fascinating to learn that physicists feel very similarly about their work.
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  • Ryan Marquardt
    January 1, 1970
    This is the book that made me get an astronomy minor in college. OK, it was only a minor, but still...I appreciate this book more in retrospect as an example of really excellent science writting. Ferris is equally good at crafting interesting narratives about the discovery process and the figures involved as he is about presenting readable, detailed, and accurate descriptions of astronomical concepts. What distinguishes it as excellent writting, for me, is that he doesn't patronize t This is the book that made me get an astronomy minor in college. OK, it was only a minor, but still...I appreciate this book more in retrospect as an example of really excellent science writting. Ferris is equally good at crafting interesting narratives about the discovery process and the figures involved as he is about presenting readable, detailed, and accurate descriptions of astronomical concepts. What distinguishes it as excellent writting, for me, is that he doesn't patronize the reader by trying to make concepts too simple, and his writting does not needlessly repeat information presented earlier in the book.Though it is not as detailed as an introductory level astronomy textbook, it presents all the same baisc ideas and in a very readable fashion. I think that reading this book prior to taking astro courses gave me a better understanding of the concepts presented in class.The organization of the book is effective because it follows the development of the science of astronomy. As such, it necessarily builds on earlier concepts and the questions raised by answers to questions asked earlier in time. Overall, this was a great read and a useful text.
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  • Emily Shepley
    January 1, 1970
    Fantastic book that covers the relatively short history of cosmology and human discovery that acted to expand the long history of the universe.This book has been on my shelf for a while but, like Carl Sagan's Cosmos, once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. It's easy to read, while still appealing to readers with some background knowledge.
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  • Kededra
    January 1, 1970
    This was like a coming-of-age story, except with the journey of the human mind. Light on the science, heavy on the history and pretty decently written. If you have even the slightest interest in space, you'll enjoy this one.
  • Cropredy
    January 1, 1970
    I hate to use cliches but in this case, apt - Ferris has a lyrical quality to his writing about the evolution of knowledge about the universe - from the earliest days of the Greeks to the latest cosmology.The book in the first few chapters deals with the discovery of planets, moons, and the heliocentric perspective of the solar system. It is mostly told via 'great man' chapters from the usual suspects - Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, Herschel and others.Of course as I hate to use cliches but in this case, apt - Ferris has a lyrical quality to his writing about the evolution of knowledge about the universe - from the earliest days of the Greeks to the latest cosmology.The book in the first few chapters deals with the discovery of planets, moons, and the heliocentric perspective of the solar system. It is mostly told via 'great man' chapters from the usual suspects - Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, Herschel and others.Of course as science got more complex with better tools, further truths about the universe became a mix of discoveries upon discoveries from a mix of astronomers and physicists. And these chapters are less about individuals as geniuses (some exceptions here: Einstein) than about what was learned and how.A reasonably easy read, with no math although having at least high school physics helps. Excellent illustrations throughout. It only bogged down in the chapter on subatomic particles but fortunately, the next chapter got more macro and was easier to follow.Worth reading? Yes to anyone who wants in one place a grand scale, chronological epic narrative of how humans have come to understand the universe in which we live.
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  • Noreen
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book! Though not a dry collection of facts, it's crammed with information. It's a feast for the mind. It's more like a biography or a historical novel than a textbook. It expresses the beauty and power that happens when we get science right. It was perfect for me because I know little about the subject but wanted to absorb an overview written in an easy to read and entertaining manner. Though so much of modern physics was established well before I was born, none of it was taught in I loved this book! Though not a dry collection of facts, it's crammed with information. It's a feast for the mind. It's more like a biography or a historical novel than a textbook. It expresses the beauty and power that happens when we get science right. It was perfect for me because I know little about the subject but wanted to absorb an overview written in an easy to read and entertaining manner. Though so much of modern physics was established well before I was born, none of it was taught in my high school general education classes. We didn't get past Newtonian mechanics. Human attempts at the explanation of our world are a mess of false starts and tangents. The early scientists were philosophers. They saw the randomness and unpredictability of this terrestrial muck and imagined that perfection must exist in the heavens. Many of them didn't observe the stars; they contemplated them, imagining symmetrical geometric beauty and music. Those who actually observed the stars and the planets worked hard to fit what they saw into the prevailing theories. They were also led astray by their own perceptions, such as that the earth stands still while the heavens move. Without the empiricism of science, we'd have the same beliefs today.It's so easy to be complacent in hindsight and wonder why scientific discovery seemed to progress so slowly. This beautifully written story makes me sympathetic to the struggles. The people are brought alive with wonderful descriptions. I really enjoyed the trenchant profiles of Tycho, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. Until now, those individuals for me were a sculpture at Griffith Park observatory. Even the animation of them in the new Cosmos series didn't do it. But I'm a reader, and this book was like candy.Reading the final chapters on the search for unified field theories made me think we have come full circle. We are still vainly searching for perfection in an imperfect universe, except now we've replaced Plato's perfect geometrical figures with supersymmetry and strings and hyperdimensionality. It's harder to follow as the concepts get more abstract. The author continues with colorful descriptions of eccentric and egocentric scientists and their sometimes clashing, sometimes meshing theories.Sometimes as I read about theoretical physics I felt like the character Charlie in Flowers for Algernon might have felt. I could appreciate only a mere shadow of the many concepts contemplated by great minds. Without really grasping any of it, I managed only to pick up a few terms I can drop to sound knowledgeable in conversation. But it was fun to read.The writing is gorgeous. The author is so skillful in his use of vocabulary, and of literary devices such as hyperbole, metaphor, and simile, that the reading experience never felt trite or pretentious. It just flowed. Sometimes it was as pleasurable as eating chocolate -- and for me that's saying a lot."Space may have a horizon and time a stop, but the adventure of learning is endless." This book gave me a taste of the joy of that adventure and at the same time a bittersweet sense of humanity's -- and my -- ignorance. I can't recommend it strongly enough.Addendum: I do have a couple of complaints that I chose not to mention because of my overall enchantment, but I keep thinking about them. The author mentions a mythical deity an awful lot for a science book. Though he describes many ways the church hindered scientific inquiry, in one passage he actually credits it with inspiring further exploration into the age of the earth. I don't understand how someone who so clearly comprehends the magnitude of what we have learned from science could possibly reconcile that with religious belief. I was unable to hold two such incompatible world views without feeling schizophrenic. One of them had to go, and my reading list and profile should make it clear which one that was.I thought the chapter on Darwin was rather out of place. Maybe the author was trying to draw an analogy between the modern synthesis as a sort of "theory of everything" in life science with the search for something similar in astrophysics and cosmology. I found it annoying that he chose to quote from the 1860 edition of The Origin of Species, which contains the phrase "by the Creator," which Darwin added possibly because of pressure from religious groups. See http://darwin-online.org.uk/Variorum/... and https://edge.org/conversation/there-i...One more thing. Gendou gave this book a poor review because it's "light on science." I agree, but that doesn't make it a bad book. Right now I'm trying to read Not Even Wrong by Peter Woit. I don't have a background in mathematics and physics, so though it covers much the same subject matter as Coming of Age in the Milky Way, I'm finding it incomprehensible. I might try reading Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics, because it's recommended for a more general readership, but what I'm starting to see is that you don't really need to comprehend physics to realize that string theory is a bit like complimentary and alternative "medicine" in that a lot of money and effort are being spent on hairbrained, dead-end concepts -- ones that are "not even wrong."
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  • Wes Cobb
    January 1, 1970
    A tour de force of the history of science. Ferris does a surprisingly good job of making even the most complicated topics somewhat understandable for the lay reader (though a few remained out of grasp) while also avoiding too much pop-science speculation.
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  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    Ferris begins with the ponderings of ancient societies and brings us forward, with clarity and painstaking research. This approach can lend itself to a predictable scientific greatest hits parade (say it with me, preferably in the singsong of Sherri and Terri twirling the jump rope on The Simpsons: and Brahe begat Kepler and Kepler begat Newton...). But Ferris does one better and balances the march of scientific discoveries with a regard for the fumbling humanity of the steps, both forward and back, toward Ferris begins with the ponderings of ancient societies and brings us forward, with clarity and painstaking research. This approach can lend itself to a predictable scientific greatest hits parade (say it with me, preferably in the singsong of Sherri and Terri twirling the jump rope on The Simpsons: and Brahe begat Kepler and Kepler begat Newton...). But Ferris does one better and balances the march of scientific discoveries with a regard for the fumbling humanity of the steps, both forward and back, toward piecing together an understanding of the universe in which we find ourselves. As we as a species grew in our understanding, the universe in turn grew around us, showing us more as we were increasingly capable of seeing more. To peer out across the galaxy, beyond the galaxy, into the universe, is of course to peek backward in time. To look ever deeper into the traces of history is to dig at the mystery of the beginnings of time. And so the book is divided into three sections, following the pursuits of space, time, and creation.Where the weave of clarity becomes looser in the later chapters of Coming of Age, Ferris steers toward the marvelous, bringing us alongside the puzzles faced by cosmologists and particle physicists in the late 20th century. It was not until these final chapters that I realized the book was written in the late 1980s, with a quick 2003 afterword appended. No matter. As it dwells less on explaining the then-current state of affairs in favor of pursuing the theoretical implications that arise, Ferris's book does not feel particularly dated (although a particle physicist will undoubtedly beg to differ). In fact, its ending seems less dated than prophetic. Researched and written in the late 1980s, Ferris ultimately imagines and describes what from my armchair in 2013 appears to be an interstellar internet, a series of self-replicating communications hubs that would network civilizations throughout the galaxy, allowing them to interact exponentially faster than the speed of light would demand. And not only that: "Growing in sophistication and complexity with the passage of aeons, forever articulating itself among the stars, the network would come to resemble nothing so much as the central nervous system of the Milky Way. [...] Life might be the galaxy's way of evolving a brain" (379).For all the pop science and science fiction I have been ingesting of late, this suggestion is the most eye-popping and intriguing of all, for it simultaneously hands us a purpose and relegates us to the backwaters of Purpose. The notion, seemingly Ferris's own, giveth and it taketh. It reminds me of the Portuguese man o' war, which walks and talks, so to speak, like a single animal but is in fact comprised of a colony of organisms. Perhaps my solar system is but a polyp that has yet to link up with its brethren in the formation of an interstellar intelligence (Galactus, I presume?).Ferris then takes his bow and ends on a note familiar to fans of Carl Sagan:"Science is young. Whether it will survive long enough to become old depends upon our sanity and courage and vigor, and, as one always must add in this nuclear age, upon whether we blow ourselves up first. 'Nothing that is vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse,' as Sophocles said, and the knowledge of how the stars shine is very great, and its dark side is very dark indeed."Epictetus the former slave remarked thatevery matter has two handles, one of which will bear taking hold of, the other not. If thy brother sin against thee, lay not hold of the matter by this, that he sins against thee; for by this handle the matter will not bear taking hold of. But rather lay hold of it by this, that he is thy brother, thy born mate; and thou wilt take hold of it by what will bear handling.Therefore, we say--speaking as living and (we think) thinking beings, as carriers of the fire--therefore, choose life" (387-88).
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  • Keit Doesntcare
    January 1, 1970
    Astronomy, physics, math, chemistry- these are all subjects that in the past, would have made my stomach cramp, as if I've eaten a whole bowl of suspiciously looking beans...When I was a little kid those were my biggest fears. I just didn't get it, it made no sense, it made my life miserable. Of course, school didn't help the slightest. We had the kind of teachers that tried their best, to make you hate the subject even more. I have a very vivid memory from school, where we had to solve just o Astronomy, physics, math, chemistry- these are all subjects that in the past, would have made my stomach cramp, as if I've eaten a whole bowl of suspiciously looking beans...When I was a little kid those were my biggest fears. I just didn't get it, it made no sense, it made my life miserable. Of course, school didn't help the slightest. We had the kind of teachers that tried their best, to make you hate the subject even more. I have a very vivid memory from school, where we had to solve just one equation and we could go home. I was the last one to not solve anything and was left alone in the classroom, thinking of all the magical possibilities, of growing up to be another empty-headed parasite of society. Needless to say I grew up resenting everything from math to astronomy. Whenever I would go to a romantic date with boys, consisting of the obligatory "stars sighting" I would always be the one to ruin the moment by saying "What's so special about them, they're just dots!". Even my current boyfriend, who has a spiritual boner every time he mentions "cosmos" or "string theory", couldn't kindle my passion for the vastness of space.This is why I was extremely skeptical when picking up this book, but form the first sentence, I knew this would be a keeper. Not only does it have an enormous amount of information, it is written with a certain doze of humor and elegance, that makes it so much more, than your typical informative blabber. I can happily say that Timothy Ferris has lighten a big-ass fire in my heart, and a big-ass love for everything that has to do with astronomy, physics, math and chemistry. If a book can completely alter a person's world view, it's a hell of a good book worth giving a chance!
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  • Andrew Fish
    January 1, 1970
    There's something poetic about the nature of the universe, and it is this as much as a desire for knowledge which drove early man to strive toward a solution of its riddles. The universe, in turn, has also driven men to write poetry, and there's something of the poetic in Ferris' history of cosmology, a book which takes us from the first recorded beliefs of our forebears through to recent discoveries at CERN. The book is structured in sections which cover first the development of our understandi There's something poetic about the nature of the universe, and it is this as much as a desire for knowledge which drove early man to strive toward a solution of its riddles. The universe, in turn, has also driven men to write poetry, and there's something of the poetic in Ferris' history of cosmology, a book which takes us from the first recorded beliefs of our forebears through to recent discoveries at CERN. The book is structured in sections which cover first the development of our understanding of the scale of the universe, then the nature of time and its relation to space, and finally plunges into the subatomic ballet which is currently expanding our knowledge of how the universe was formed.Ferris has a light, elegant style which lends itself well to this kind of book, both in the lyricism with which it draws the readers through the early stages and in the skilled use of metaphor which allows him to illustrate concepts in quantum physics, although these come so thick and fast toward the end that you'll not so much struggle to understand as remember them all. You can appreciate the view of one scientist who, on seeing the mass of particles predicted by quantum physics, said that if he could remember all that he would have become a botanist. Like trails in a cloud chamber, however, what is left imprinted on the reader is an appreciation of just how far we've come.My one niggle was in the section on Herschel, where I thought he gave his sister Caroline - a skilled astronomer in her own right - somewhat short shrift. Perhaps this is understandable in a work of this scope - it certainly shouldn't detract from the enjoyment and edification which flows from its pages.
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  • Jeffrey Schwartz
    January 1, 1970
    I went back and forth on whether to rate this 4 or 5 stars. COMING OF AGE IN THE MILKY WAY is a wonderful but challenging book; the latter quality is particularly evident when Timothy Ferris discusses Quantum Mechanics or String Theory. In the end, though, a 5 star book is one I know I will return to, and I can't imagine not returning to this book.In less than 400 pages, Ferris manages to describe the history of humanity's understanding of the universe, from the pre-Socratic Greeks t I went back and forth on whether to rate this 4 or 5 stars. COMING OF AGE IN THE MILKY WAY is a wonderful but challenging book; the latter quality is particularly evident when Timothy Ferris discusses Quantum Mechanics or String Theory. In the end, though, a 5 star book is one I know I will return to, and I can't imagine not returning to this book.In less than 400 pages, Ferris manages to describe the history of humanity's understanding of the universe, from the pre-Socratic Greeks to String Theory. There are, of course, subjects you wish he would dwell on longer, and the understanding of such subjects requires a sustained effort, but Ferris' ability to condense complex ideas and movements into a digestible length is highly impressive. In the end, though, this book gets the 5 star rating because of Ferris' prose. Short of Carl Sagan, I've never read a science writer able to adeptly explain complicated subjects AND evoke a such a formidable sense of wonder. The language throughout is precise, elegant, and lyrical. This book not only allows for an appreciation humanity's ceaseless progress in the sciences, but it captures some of the beauty and strangeness and awe of the cosmos.
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  • Ann
    January 1, 1970
    Ferris' book is a readable and engaging summary of the history and philosophy of cosmology with supporting vignettes into mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, and evolution (Darwin). He does a good job of weaving together historical events, personalities, and the little questions. Though he doesn't address it directly until the concluding chapter, throughout this book Ferris presents the human drive to know and understand our place in nature as specific questions have been posed. Thus, Fe Ferris' book is a readable and engaging summary of the history and philosophy of cosmology with supporting vignettes into mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, and evolution (Darwin). He does a good job of weaving together historical events, personalities, and the little questions. Though he doesn't address it directly until the concluding chapter, throughout this book Ferris presents the human drive to know and understand our place in nature as specific questions have been posed. Thus, Ferris builds from the immediate questions and applications to the larger question of human existence and in fact, beyond with his consideration of ET. The only error I found was his referral to cell walls in human skin cells -- no animal cells have cell walls -- which does not detract from his point but is erroneous and therefore, annoying. In the world of biology, it matters that animal cells do not have cell walls. I found this book to provide an excellent historical framework in which to organize the many articles and books I have read in this area. Highly recommended.
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  • Sharyn
    January 1, 1970
    This is the best book I've ever read. I made up the dates, because I don't remember when I read it. It's a book to be savored and read a little every day, except that it's so interesting, it's hard to put it down. I missed a lot of sleep because of that fact.Timothy Ferris puts so much together in this book, that it's impossible for me to describe. In fact, I have to read it again, and vow to not devour it quite so quickly this time. He weaves a golden and silver tapestry with thread This is the best book I've ever read. I made up the dates, because I don't remember when I read it. It's a book to be savored and read a little every day, except that it's so interesting, it's hard to put it down. I missed a lot of sleep because of that fact.Timothy Ferris puts so much together in this book, that it's impossible for me to describe. In fact, I have to read it again, and vow to not devour it quite so quickly this time. He weaves a golden and silver tapestry with threads of history most of us never really understood, and creates a masterpiece in everyday language explaining all the great thinkers, artists, and scientists.The perspective I come away with is one of the bird's eye view of human thought and something much farther out, when viewing the Universe. I'm left knowing that we are just in the baby stages of understanding our own existence.
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  • Sandra Wagner-Wright
    January 1, 1970
    The most recent assessment of our universe reveals its energy output is only half what it was two billion years ago. Everything is fizzling. In trillions of years, what was once vibrantly pulsating Milky Way will become a cold, dark place. How did we get to this point?This is the question Timothy Ferris tackled in his 1988 Coming of Age in the Milky Way. It’s an enlightening read. I’m not scientifically inclined. Yet the starry heavens fascinate me. In this I’m no different from the The most recent assessment of our universe reveals its energy output is only half what it was two billion years ago. Everything is fizzling. In trillions of years, what was once vibrantly pulsating Milky Way will become a cold, dark place. How did we get to this point?This is the question Timothy Ferris tackled in his 1988 Coming of Age in the Milky Way. It’s an enlightening read. I’m not scientifically inclined. Yet the starry heavens fascinate me. In this I’m no different from the ancient Egyptians. Ferris traces the story of European culture’s efforts to understand how the universe works while introducing the reader to the men and women responsible for scientific breakthroughs. Well worth reading
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  • David Mills
    January 1, 1970
    An excellent cosmological/astrophysical primer for liberal-arts-minded readers.Favorite quote = "The greatest of all the accomplishments of twentieth-century science has been the discovery of human ignorance." - Lew Thomas
  • Erik Graff
    January 1, 1970
    This is an accessible history of cosmology and astronomy, substantially told through brief biographies, written by a popular science author who has won several awards for his work.
  • Ahmed Omer
    January 1, 1970
    I’ve read a lot of books of history of science and they all tend to trod similar ground, timothy ferriss has written what is in many ways the same book. however it is not bad, by any stretch.
  • Ami Iida
    January 1, 1970
    Boring,Boring,Boring........setback...........not interestingAll the contents are old style, not interesting.
  • Kadri
    January 1, 1970
    Covers the history of cosmology from the ancient world to the contemporary theories of the big bang and the inflationary universe. A bit slow in some parts, otherwise a good read.
  • April
    January 1, 1970
    Very dense book but gave an interesting perspective to cosmology that I enjoyed. Bill Bryson did a great job in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything that was easier (and more entertaining) to read but was not as in depth as the information here. And I appreciated the discussion of quantum physics, though thinking about it makes my brain hurt. The Universe is amazing and seemingly infinite, it's astonishing that we have figured out as much as we have about it. But still, so many questions are left Very dense book but gave an interesting perspective to cosmology that I enjoyed. Bill Bryson did a great job in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything that was easier (and more entertaining) to read but was not as in depth as the information here. And I appreciated the discussion of quantum physics, though thinking about it makes my brain hurt. The Universe is amazing and seemingly infinite, it's astonishing that we have figured out as much as we have about it. But still, so many questions are left unanswered, which is what makes us all miracles and reminds me every day to savor existence and life. This chance, this opportunity, to experience life when it all could have easily not happened, ever. I experience extreme gratitude for it all and wish I could see the stars blanket the night skies like I did that one time while driving back to Scottsdale from Sedona, AZ. I felt like a child again, witnessing something wondrous, magical, and heart-achingly beautiful, seeing the hundreds of thousands of stars as I'd rarely seen them before. Knowing that they are there every night is comforting, even though most of them are hidden from our view because of city light pollution and I can only see the brightest ones."Political power presumably played a role in early efforts to identify periodic motions in the sky, inasmuch as what a man can predict he can pretend to control." pg. 22"Newton himself did not believe that his theory had diminished the role of the deity/ As he saw it, the real miracle is existence itself, and he invoked the hand of God at the origin of the universe: 'The Motions which the Planets now have could not spring from any natural Cause alone, but were impressed by an intelligent Agent,' he wrote Bentley." pg. 122"He continued his education by reading constantly; many years later he would tell his son John that once while reading on horseback he suddenly found himself standing on the road, book still securely in hand, the horse having tossed him in a perfect somersault through the air." pg. 151"[Darwin] had seen firsthand evidence that the earth is embroiled in continuing change, and he wondered whether species might change, too, and whether their mutability might cause new species to come into existence. Evolution itself was not a new idea." pg. 235"Missing was proof of the existence of the fundamental hereditary unit, the biological quantum – in short, the gene. Without the stability imparted by genes, innovative mutations would be diluted away like drops of blood in the ocean, before they had time to spread to any significant numbers of individuals. In such a situation natural selection might occur, but it could scarcely account account for the origin of species." pg. 241 "Indeed, the book [The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection] was so detailed and modest that it struck many readers as self-evident. This was a source of strength, in that nothing so persuades a man to accept a novel idea as the sense that he already knew it to be true." pg. 243"Studies indicated that the detonation of as few as 1 percent of these warheads would reduce the combatant societies to 'medieval' levels, and that climatic effects following a not much larger exchange could lead to global famine and the potential extinction of the human species. The studies were widely publicized, but years passed and the strategic arsenals were not reduced." pg. 253"The study of stellar evolution teaches us that the meek shall inherit the galaxy." pg. 271"By revealing that the observer plays a role in the observed, quantum physics did for physics what Darwin had done in the life sciences: It tore down walls, reuniting mind with the wider universe." pg. 289"Instead, they could consider that nature is complicated and imperfect because it has a past--that, as the American physicist Thomas Gold remarked, things are as they are because they were as they were." pg. 338"We are left, then, with an image of genesis as a soundless and insubstantial castle, where our eyes cast innovative, Homeric beams and the only voices are our own. Having ushered ourselves in and having reverently and diligently done our scientific homework, we ask, as best we can frame the question, how creation came to be. The answer comes back, resounding through vaulted chambers where mind and cosmos meet. It is an echo." pg. 366"The Roman Catholic Church, convinced that humans are essentially immaterial spirits, felt threatened by the materialistic point of view: When Giordano Bruno, the Renaissance doyen of pop mysticism, asserted that matter 'is in truth all nature and the mother of all living things,' and declared that God 'is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, but in a thousand, I say, in an infinity of worlds,' he was tied to an iron stake and burned alive, on February 19, 1600, in the Piazza Campo dei Fiori in Rome." pg. 369-370"Growing in sophistication and complexity with the passage of aeons, forever articulating itself among the stars, the network [of interstellar communication] would come to resemble nothing so much as the central nervous system of the Milky Way." pg. 379"And, it suggests a cosmic role for intelligence--that the combination of intelligence and technology could awaken the universe to its own life and thought and history. That would make us all the substance of a cosmic mind." pg. 380"Why, then, does science work? The answer is that nobody knows. It is a complete mystery--perhaps the complete mystery--why the human mind should be able to understand anything at all about the wider universe. As Einstein used to say, 'The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.' Perhaps it is because our brains evolved through the workings of natural law that they somehow resonate with natural law. Nature exhibits a number of self-similarities--patterns of behavior that recur on different scales, making it possible to identity principles, such as the conservation laws, that apply universally--and these may provide the link between what goes on inside and outside the human skull. But the mystery, really, is not that we are at one with the universe, but that we are to some degree at odds with it, different from it, and yet can understand something about it. Why is this so?" pg. 385"Science is young. Whether it will survive long enough to become old depends upon our sanity and courage and vigor, and, as one always must add in this nuclear age, upon whether we blow ourselves up first. 'Nothing that is vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse,' as Sophocles said, and the knowledge of how the stars shine is very great, and its dark side is very dark indeed." pg. 387Book: borrowed from SSF Main Library.
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  • Kirsten
    January 1, 1970
    I appreciated the author's methods in this book. First, he mostly focused on the people rather than on the details of various theories, giving just a general overview of each theory along with the history of its development. This kept the book from getting bogged down in complicated technical details, and gave a good background and context for each progressive step in our understanding of the cosmos. Also, I don't think I realized quite how eccentric some of these guys were, so that was entertai I appreciated the author's methods in this book. First, he mostly focused on the people rather than on the details of various theories, giving just a general overview of each theory along with the history of its development. This kept the book from getting bogged down in complicated technical details, and gave a good background and context for each progressive step in our understanding of the cosmos. Also, I don't think I realized quite how eccentric some of these guys were, so that was entertaining. Second, the author did a nice job of showing how various scientific developments in astronomy, geology, biology, and physics were all connected, and all instrumental in piecing together our knowledge of the universe. The chapter on the history of physics wasn't quite as readable as the rest of the book, and of course the book was published thirty years ago so it doesn't include any theories or discoveries post-1988, but overall I found this to be an interesting history of human understanding of the cosmos.
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  • Castles
    January 1, 1970
    What much popular science book skip through, the history of the times and the people who developed science, this book dwells on.From Ancient Greece, Ptolemy, Aristotle, through the Renaissance, Kepler and Galileo and more, until Newton and our times, governed by Einstein. This book tells their stories, their breakthrough, and how the universe was understood in each time. So I thought this book is more of a history of science until I got to the second and third part when it took a tur What much popular science book skip through, the history of the times and the people who developed science, this book dwells on.From Ancient Greece, Ptolemy, Aristotle, through the Renaissance, Kepler and Galileo and more, until Newton and our times, governed by Einstein. This book tells their stories, their breakthrough, and how the universe was understood in each time. So I thought this book is more of a history of science until I got to the second and third part when it took a turn to Darwinism and (expectedly) quantum physics. By that point, it became very similar to most popular science books, which by no means is wrong. It even gets a little technical, but just on the right amount not to bore you. Not being a physician or a mathematician, some of those concepts I still find hard to understand, but this book is another step in the path of learning.
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  • Bryan Dunk
    January 1, 1970
    Maybe the best book I've ever read. Definitely the best popular science book.Ferris doesn't just spout facts, he weaves a story. He puts almost every important scientific discovery in the context of the discoverer, explaining the existing thinking and how this new revelation changed (and how it had to fight for that change!)Chapter 10, focused on Einstein's theories of general and special relativity explained the why, the how, and most importantly the "and that means what Maybe the best book I've ever read. Definitely the best popular science book.Ferris doesn't just spout facts, he weaves a story. He puts almost every important scientific discovery in the context of the discoverer, explaining the existing thinking and how this new revelation changed (and how it had to fight for that change!)Chapter 10, focused on Einstein's theories of general and special relativity explained the why, the how, and most importantly the "and that means what for science?" better than any book I've encountered.Highly HIGHLY recommended to anyone who's ever been a little curious about how we got to now.
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  • Joe Stack
    January 1, 1970
    I think this is one of the best history of science books. I found the writing style engaging and the author moves the history along. His bios are all interesting, and his explanations of ideas very clear.
  • Ryan
    January 1, 1970
    Short and sweet audiobook read by the author. Is outdated in romanticizing of Christopher Columbus and overall paints a very pretty picture over some ugly truths. Is a fantastic read for the uninitiated or the young.
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