Coming of Age in the Milky Way

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...

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Title:Coming of Age in the Milky Way
Author:Timothy Ferris
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Coming of Age in the Milky Way Reviews

  • Ryan Marquardt

    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

    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.

  • 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

    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.

  • Emily Shepley

    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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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

    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.

  • Kededra

    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

    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

    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.

  • Emily

    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 f

    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.

  • 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

    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.

  • Charlene

    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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