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Coming of Age in the Milky Way [Paperback]

by Timothy Ferris
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 29, 2003 0060535954 978-0060535957 Reprint

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The ancient Egyptians regarded the sky as a kind of tent canopy. Thirty centuries later, astronomer William Herschel argued that the sun belongs to a huge cluster of stars (a galaxy, as we call it today) and charted great swaths of intergalactic space through a telescope. How the human species slowly awakened to the vast reaches of space and time is the story absorbingly told by popular science writer Ferris (The Red Limit, Galaxies). His narrative humanizes the scientific enterpriseGalileo emerges here as a careerist, and Johannes Kepler as a self-loathing neurotic. Although it covers well-trod ground, this remarkable synthesis makes broad areas of science accessible to the layperson, from Darwin's and Lyell's investigations of the age of the earth to modern physicists' quest for a perfectly symmetrical, hyperdimensional universe. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA In the first section, Ferris uses historical anecdotes to relate astronomical discoveries and the foibles of their discoverers in a successful attempt to show the ``big names'' of science as real persons, warts and all. The second section, on the history of space and time, is also well done, if lacking in the human details. The third section, which deals with cosmology and modern physics, uses a philosophical approach to discuss difficult material; the result is not easy to absorb, but it is good base material for students who will ask questions and go further on their own. Throughout the book, introductory quotations are used to advantage to tease readers into the next topic. Bob Fliess, Episcopal High School, Bellaire, Tex .
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (July 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060535954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060535957
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Timothy Ferris is the author of twelve books - among them The Science of Liberty and the bestsellers The Whole Shebang and Coming of Age in the Milky Way, which have been translated into fifteen languages and were named by The New York Times as two of the leading books published in the twentieth century, and Seeing in the Dark, named one of the ten best nonfiction books of 2002. He also edited the anthologies Best American Science Writing 2001 and the World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics. A former editor of Rolling Stone magazine, he has published over 200 articles and essays in The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Harper's, Scientific American, Vanity Fair, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and other periodicals.

Ferris wrote and narrated three television specials - "The Creation of the Universe," which aired repeatedly in network prime time for nearly 20 years, "Life Beyond Earth" (1999), and "Seeing in the Dark" (2007). He produced the Voyager phonograph record, an artifact of human civilization containing music and sounds of Earth launched aboard the twin Voyager interstellar spacecraft, which are now exiting the outer reaches of the solar system. He was among the journalists selected as candidates to fly aboard the Space Shuttle in 1986, and has served on various NASA commissions studying the long-term goals of space exploration and the potential hazards posed by near-Earth asteroids.

Called "the best popular science writer in the English language" by The Christian Science Monitor and "the best science writer of his generation" by The Washington Post, Ferris has received the American Institute of Physics prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His works have been nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Ferris has taught in five disciplines - astronomy, English, history, journalism, and philosophy - at four universities, and is now emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
59 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars forget Hawking July 9, 2001
When Timothy Ferris decided to write a history of Cosmology he very nearly ended up with a book the size of the Cosmos itself. But for the final product, the result of twelve years of work, he pared three volumes of material down to a more manageable 500 pages. In so doing he has given us what must surely be one of the best books of popular science ever written.
Science writing, if it is to appeal to us unwashed masses, must achieve two very difficult things : it must render difficult concepts comprehensible to the laymen and it must be exciting enough to hold the reader's interest. Coming of Age... succeeds brilliantly on both grounds. Mr. Ferris tells his story as if it were an adventure tale, the adventure being man's continuing quest to understand the world around him, which has pushed the age of the Earth and the physical boundaries of the Universe back further and further, at the same time that the basic matter that makes up the Universe has been perceived to be smaller and smaller than we first believed. And yet, even as we've come to realize how much more complex things are than we first realized, we've nonetheless made extraordinary progress in understanding them.
Meanwhile, Ferris goes beyond the mere theories and gives us a rich set of portraits of the often odd men who made the discoveries : Tycho Brahe with his lead nose; Newton practicing alchemy; Einstein with his various foibles; etc. Though there must surely be some temptation to demonstrate how remarkable these men's' discoveries were by presenting them in all their complexity, Ferris mercifully presents their ideas in terms that we can usually grasp.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could become one of the classics April 28, 2005
Timothy Ferris is a well-known and unusually gifted non-fiction writer dealing in astronomy. This book, The Coming of Age in the Milky Way, is the book that earned him his famous name.

The problem with so many non-fiction books dealing in the so-called "hard sciences" is that the fields change so rapidly that the works very quickly become obsolete. One need look no further than Cosmos by Carl Sagan and even A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking to realize how quickly cutting edge theory becomes yesterday's news. This book is different. Coming of Age is a classic that will withstand the obsolescence of many other books because, rather than promulgating unified theories and multi-universe dimensions, it instead takes an historical approach. It is quite literally the human race coming of age in the field of astronomy beginning with the ancient peoples and the first notions of a round earth, through the classic Greek and Arabian astronomers, through the dark ages to Galileo, Copernicus, and Newton; following through with Einstein and finally the quantum-state theories we have today.

Rather than a boring litany of discoveries that one might find in an encyclopedia, Ferris makes his book a rousing discussion of scientists flailing at the unknown and chronicling in detail all the misunderstandings and missteps taken in the drunken, ambling path of cosmic discovery. It's that fallibility in understanding matched with the insatiable curiosity of the human race that makes the work so enlivening and so breathtaking. It becomes impossible not to become entranced with this brotherhood spanning so many ages seeking no more than a deeper understanding of the stars. For many, it will become an historical study in how people think and even why people reach to discover.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quantum Leap in a book June 3, 2000
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book. A fine read, right from the start. Frankly, I am still slightly "giddy" from learning what a quantum leap really is, or at least thinking I have learned. I'm almost 50 but I think this is a wonderful book for younger readers. By younger, I mean older teens and twenty-somethings who will enjoy the entertaining approach to the universe Mr. Ferris provides. I don't currently have the book, it has been loaned to a young friend. I have a few more people in mind to whom I would like to loan the book. Mr Ferris deserves to make a good living (in my opinion), so maybe if you will take my humble word for it and buy this book, you will make up for the fact that I am going to spend the next few years loaning it out to people who won't or can't buy it. I personally read 50+ books a year including 'fatties' like the Ascent of Science by B.Silver. "Coming of Age" is one of my favorites. This book is fun, easy to read, has great stories, and it just kept getting more fun and more interesting right to the end. Buy it. Loan it to someone. Share the fun.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well... October 15, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There are a lot of glowing reviews here and it feels strange to be the one dissenting voice, but let me explain. First, let's agree this book is for the layperson, not the Physics or Astronomy major, but for the person who simply likes science very much. I work in the auto repair business, but I've always loved science yet have no education in that field. I bought this on the strength of Ferris' DVD's which I've seen 2 of (Life Beyond Earth and Seeing in the Dark), and let me say they were very good (esp. the former).
The majority of this book is good. Tim elaborates on some very interesting details I have not heard before, and in a humorous/interesting way, such as Kepler's letter begging Galileo to borrow his telescope, or the details of Aristarchus's sun-centered universe's only evidence in one of the letters of Archimedes. Carl Sagan in "Cosmos" talks of Aristarchus quite a bit, but he never mentions this information, which prove very interesting.
However, most of this book is a basic re-telling of how mankind learned of his/her place in the universe (as the title says!), BUT this has been done much better by Sagan in the forementioned "Cosmos." Sagan makes the subject come to life much more, shows much more enthusiasm in explaining things. Ferris has a bit of a dry way about him (which was evident in the DVD's), but he's good. He's just not Sagan. Let me also say that Bill Bryson in a "Short History of nearly Everything" gets much more technical than Ferris (in the quantum physics section), BUT again, Bryson does it with more interest than Ferris. I couldn't understand most of that section (Bryson uses the "X-Files" as an example!), but in Bryson's book I WANTED to keep reading and try to understand, with Ferris, after about 5 pages of the "Symmetry" section, I gave up.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book
Coming of Age in the Milky Way, by Timothy Ferris is one of my favorite books. Ferris has a way of explaining how early astronomers discovered what we now take for granted about... Read more
Published 22 days ago by Sherri
4.0 out of 5 stars Goes beyond the facts as we know them
I have read the first few chapters of the book, up until the 17th century.
This book gave me more than the facts, it explained the reason why certain people took a certain... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Sudhir Gurjar
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a hard cover book
This book was supposed to be hard cover book. This unit was ok, but had heavy wear and it was dirty. Some parts of it was sticky. Still a good book to read.
Published 6 months ago by Sam
5.0 out of 5 stars Favorite book
This is one of my favorite books. Very well written with amazing stories of the birth of cosmology from the earliest days through modern times.
Published 14 months ago by D. Peden
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 stars!
"Coming of Age in the Milky Way" must be my favorite science book written for the layman. Timothy Ferris makes the history of astronomy come alive by telling the story through... Read more
Published 15 months ago by gw
5.0 out of 5 stars History of Science Classic
A couple of friends mentioned this book to me -- I had never heard of it, amazingly. Ferris' book is a classic of popular science writing chronicling man's understanding of the... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Timothy F. Bourne
2.0 out of 5 stars Read carefully
Read a wonderful review of this book and then ordered it. Not my cup of tea, but the review was great!
Published 17 months ago by K. Devereux
5.0 out of 5 stars Listening the music of the spheres
Cosmos is a battlefield for the conflict between science and religion. Putting aside those books that defends one option (there is a god behind everything) or the other (there... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Sergio A. Rosales
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical figures come alive
I read this book for a physical science class in college. Absolutely brilliant. Timothy Ferris has a rare talent in that he can convey complex topics in a compelling and... Read more
Published on January 8, 2012 by M. Larsen
5.0 out of 5 stars One of My Favorite Books
I read this book when it was first published in the late 80's. I read it again recently. A few areas might now be outdated, but most of this book is timeless, since it primarily... Read more
Published on December 16, 2011 by Robert Watson
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