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Coming of Age in the Milky Way Reprint Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060535957
ISBN-10: 0060535954
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (July 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060535954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060535957
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #222,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on July 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By T. Cheng on 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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