Coming of Age in the Milky Way
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Coming of Age in the Milky Way

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4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  1,402 ratings  ·  70 reviews
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 humankind had an inkling of the vast space that surrounds us, those who study the universe have had to struggle against politica...more
Hardcover, 1st, 495 pages
Published July 1988 by William Morrow & Co., Inc. (NY) (first published 1988)
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Gendou
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 happe...more
Moire
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Despite the fact that some of the later chapters are out-of-date on the astronomy and physics results, this was a very fun read.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...more
Caroline
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 b...more
Ryan Marquardt
Dec 11, 2007 Ryan Marquardt rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone even mildly interested in astronomy
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...more
B. Rule
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...more
Tyler
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...more
Subowal
The most fascinating journey in the history of mankind is the journey of the mind - the attempt by us to make sense of the world around us, to detect patterns in the apparent jumble and to create theories to explain the world. The journey began with our ancestors looking at the sky and noticing regularities in the motion of stars and planets. At the same time people were also trying to understand the behaviour of more mundane objects like gold crowns immersed in water and levers. They were also...more
Keit Doesntcare
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...more
Brie
Apparently I forgot to write a review on this book when I read it, so I'm writing it now, a couple months later.

If you're looking for a history on astronomy/cosmology, you could do worse than this book. The only problem is it's a bit dated, having been written in 1988, and then updated in 2003. But it does a pretty good job of explaining the discoveries prior to that. Ferris covers all the main points, and gives a good amount of detail to them and the people involved, even if the writing isn't...more
Andrew Fish
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...more
Bob Nichols
Ferris takes the reader through the history of the physics, from the Greeks to Newton, to the sun and the Milky Way, and then to the edges of space and time. Ferris was a great choice for an introductory tutorial, even though I stumbled on to him randomly at the used book store. The best part of this book was his description of the four fundamental forces ("interactions" he calls them as they always involve two or more "things") and how these relate to the evolution of the basic physical compone...more
Maoquai Chang
This was the first book that made science interesting to me. This book made me want to become a theoretical physicist and i spent the next several years teaching myself particle physics in preparation for a return to university (i'm now finishing a PhD in something else - but i only felt compelled to return to school because of this book). Ferris made science interesting, engaging, fun, and most importantly, incredibly accessible. After several misogynist jerk science teachers (a threatened fail...more
Jake
This review of the journey from early astronomy to modern day astrophysicists was more entertaining that I would have thought. Small anecdote and the idiosyncrasies of the various scientists (along with their often-times less than stellar early lives and careers) made for an engaging read. The last chapter was my favorite, including a more in-depth accounting of the Big Bang.
Kurt
Coming of Age in the Milky Way is the story of how we have pieced together a credible picture of the universe in which our world resides. This process is what the author calls our "coming of age" as we have, through centuries of fitful effort, finally begun to comprehend a few of the fundamental facts about the universe which is prerequisite to even a modest claim of cosmological maturity.

The fact that the subjects of science and history are (and always have been) my two favorite subjects of stu...more
Dan Martinez
May 02, 2008 Dan Martinez rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
I nicked this book from my father's recent-purchases stack while home from college one Thanksgiving, but in the end it wouldn't let me go. It ultimately cost me nearly two weeks of finals-study time, but I couldn't say that the price was too high.

While in principle it's simply a history of astronomy, the material, in Ferris's capable hands, winds up feeling more like a detective story. How have we come, from our fixed vantage point on the limb of a spiral galaxy, to know what we know about the s...more
Ryan
An excellent introduction to a novice astronomer or anyone interested in space in general. Provides various significant realizations about our universe, while later informing the reader on possible hypotheses on how the universe came into existence. I cannot recommend highly enough. Much of the book is written in a way which is easily accessible to even those who do not have a background in physics or astronomy. Beware the later sections of the book that contain information regarding quantum mec...more
Eugene
A great book for everyone. As a physicist, I appreciated the descriptions of the personal lives of these outstanding scientists. Ferris demonstrates their faults and failures. It points out that all of us foul-up at some points in our lives.

For example, who would have guessed that the women natives of Tahiti would trade sex for a nail and Captain Cook's sailors pulled so many nails from their ship that it almost fell apart. Galileo was so absorbed with self-promotion that he wouldn't help Kepler...more
John Doyle
Riveting read about the people and ideas that contributed to our modern notions of reality and humanity's place in the universe. Although the acceleration of our understanding of the universe through science seems undeniable I was left with the unsettling feeling that the ratio of what we understand to what "we know that we don't know" has been declining rapidly since Galileo.
Rauri Finan
Reading and ADHD are difficult to combine. So far I'm finding too many sentences run on and on for up to 5 or 6 lines and contain an unnecessary amount of commas. I attribute this to bad editing or having an academic style in which references are always required. But I'd hate to feel stupid not being able to read a smarty pants book so I'll give it another go after I've read something written with a bit more style and grace.
Matthew
Mar 02, 2008 Matthew rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the curious; those amazed by existence
This book helped me understand, like, lots of stuff. You know, like, stars and shit.

It's actually fantastic, not only in its explanations of processes that are downright miraculous, but also in its biopics of various astronomers, physicists and geologists, some of whom (Kepler) I'm determined to learn more about.

My one complaint is that the discoveries of the 20th Century, the complexities of which fill many textbooks, were diluted to a point that the layman (Matt) could not understand them. On...more
Rob Enns
Fantastic. This book tours human knowledge of our place in cosmic history, covering Astronomy, Cosmology, Physics (Classical, Quantum, String Theory), Evolution. It's a more in-depth tour than A Short History of Nearly Everything, spending less time on anecdotes and more time on explaining concepts via analogy and exploring the nature of science. One could summarize this book as a better version of A short history..., but that would be selling it short. I have been a fan of Mr. Ferris ever since...more
Mark
Jan 19, 2014 Mark rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Science enthusiasts
Even though this book was written in 1988 and so doesn't cover some key developments of physics/astronomy/cosmology of recent years (e.g., the discovery of exoplanets, dark energy, and the higgs particle), it is still probably the best popular science book I've read in the last several years. I recall that this book was included in the "suggested reading" list of a "History of Astronomy" course I took several years ago (which I did not read then). I can see why now. It should probably be on the...more
Nick
An interesting read, from B.C. to bosons. In the chapters about quantum physics near the end of the book, Ferris assumes the reader has come with background knowledge of the subject; his explanations are too brief compared to the format of all other chapters. For its breadth of subject this book is short, which is good because the entire read is quick and engaging. However, more than a few topics not only left me wanting more, in the cliched sense, but were frankly too thin a soup for this reade...more
Jim
Just read this again after having read it the first time about 20 years ago. It really is a beautiful book that hasn't lost any of its relevance even with 20 years of additional discovery (which it deals with in an afterwards).

It tells the story of the Universe while also telling the story of telling the story of the Universe, from the first decipherable cave paintings to up to date discoveries in the field of particle physics - all in a way that can be understood by folks like me that have an...more
Trevor
Ferris has the ability to make difficult scientific concepts almost make sense. I loved this readable jaunt through a history of physics and knowledge of the universe. I also loved the fascinating anecdotes about the scientists themselves.
For any physics dilletante, (or aspiring physics dilletante), this is a great place to start. I then recommend upping the ante a bit by indulging in The Teaching Company's lecture series "Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non...more
Kaethe
An entertaining survey of astronomers throughout history.
Terry McCarthy
One of my favorite books of all time.
I have purchased it repeatedly and given it as gifts.

How DID the ancients accurately measure the circumference of the earth, and I mean ACCURATELY? (It was easier than you might think.)

One by one, history's brightest and hardest-working marched through time and solved mystery after mystery, building knowledge of our modern world.

A can't-put-down...and not just for scientists.

Did I mention the 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe had a metal nose? I'm just sayi...more
Joe
I read this a long time ago. It is a nice primer on the history of major scientific discoveries and how they changed the collecive worldview of mankind. A fairly succinct summary of the major paradigm shifts that affected the entire world. A compilation of stories of the great discoverers and how they arrived at their big ahas, told in an an enjoyable narrative style. Also a reminder that the more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is that we have yet to learn.
Carl
I've lost count of the number of times I've read this book. I'm no scientist and the later chapters of the book (string theory et al) are somewhat difficult for me but I still read them every time I go back to the book and understand a little more.

I have a love of history and that's where this book really catches me with the historical perspective of cosmology and physics (some of the characters are fascinating and I would love to find a good biography of some of them).
Brandie
Feb 04, 2008 Brandie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the history of astronomy and physics
This history book personalizes all of the iconic moments in the history of astronomy. It strings together people, places and events in a narrative more captivating than any fiction could hope to be. Really: we're talking supernovae and quasars and epicycles.
And some of the personal stories (Kepler comes to mind) are amazing. They pull together science, personalities and discovery in novel ways that really enhanced my previous understanding of astronomy.
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Timothy Ferris is the author of a dozen books (most recently The Science of Liberty), plus 200 articles and essays, and three documentary films—"The Creation of the Universe," “Life Beyond Earth,” and “Seeing in the Dark”—seen by over 20 million viewers.

Ferris produced the Voyager phonograph record, an artifact of human civilization containing music and sounds of Earth launched aboard the twin Voy...more
More about Timothy Ferris...
The Whole Shebang A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy & Mathematics from Albert Einstein to Stephen W. Hawking & from Annie Dillard to John Updike The Red Limit

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