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Coming of Age in the Milky Way (1988)

by Timothy Ferris

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1,4231310,410 (4.25)11
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.… (more)
  1. 30
    The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, & the Birth of the Modern World by Edward Dolnick (rakerman)
    rakerman: Many of the same scientists show up in Coming of Age and The Clockwork Universe, with different emphasis and focus. The books complement one another, for example there are more details about Kepler's work in The Clockwork Universe.
  2. 10
    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (sturlington)
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» See also 11 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
This ambitious work chronicles the history of how humans have come to understand the size, age, and origin of the universe. Given that this book was originally published in 1988, I'm sure that some of the data in the later chapters has since been disproven by more recent research; however, since it is primarily a history, it is not nearly as dated as most 1980's books on astrophysics probably are, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to modern readers with an interest in the history of astronomy and physics.

Coming of Age in the Milky Way is in many ways a formative book for me. I first read it as a teen, and it helped to encourage my love for astronomy and physics (and later, to major in physics at university). The first two sections, which are a history of pre-20th century physics, are the most interesting to me personally. Ferris does an excellent job both of capturing the personalities involved (especially of figures like Galileo, Kepler, and Newton) and of describing the science in a succinct and understandable way. He covers a lot of ground, touching on geology and evolution as well as astronomy. The final section is less interesting to me, as quantum mechanics and the various theories associated with the Big Bang tend to make my head spin, and I kept wondering which 1980's theories are no longer valid today. Still, Coming of Age in the Milky Way is a well-written book that will likely always have a place on my bookshelf. ( )
1 vote Heather39 | Jun 14, 2021 |
history of astronomy, astro-physics and nuclear physics
  ritaer | Mar 15, 2021 |
Probably the best book on the history of scince and present understanding of the universe that I have ever read. ( )
  Matt_B | Nov 10, 2018 |
This book is breathtaking in its historical scope, research, and in the author's ability to explain complex concepts in astronomy and physics to those of us without advanced degrees in those fields. On top of all that Ferris is a superb writer. ( )
  bkinetic | Mar 28, 2017 |
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 interest in science and discovery but have no aptitude for it! ( )
  mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike—yet it is the most precious thing we have.
—Albert Einstein
The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks were having an argument about it. One said the flag was moving, the other said that the wind was moving; and they could come to no agreement on the matter. They argued back and forth. Eno the Patriarch said, "It is not that the wind is moving; it is not that the flag is moving; it is that your honourable minds are moving."
—Platform Sutra
[Preface and Acknowledgments]
How oft we sigh
When histories charm to think that histories lie!
--Thomas Moore
[Part One]
The self shines in space through knowing.
--The Upanishads
[Chapter 1]
You may have heard the music of Man but not the music of Earth. You may have heard the music of Earth but not the music of Heaven.
--Chuang Tzu

Had we never seen the stars, and the sun, and the heaven, none of the words which we have spoken about the universe would ever have been uttered. But now the sight of day and night, and the months and the revolutions of the years, have created number, and have given us a conception of time, and the power of enquiring about the nature of the universe; and from this source we have derived philosophy, than which no greater good ever was or will be given by the gods to mortal man.
--Plato
Dedication
For Carolyn

If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, "This poet lies—
Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces."
—Shakespeare
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The skies of our ancestors hung low overhead.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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Book description
Cos'è il tempo? Cos'è lo spazio? Com'è fatto il mondo? Quali leggi lo regolano? Da dove è nato tutto? Per la fisica moderna, in base al principio quantistico dell'indeterminazione, ogni risposta dipende dalla domanda che è stata formulata. Fare la storia della scienza vuol dire quindi non soltanto fare la storia delle risposte che la specie umana ha saputo trovare nel corso della sua esistenza, ma soprattutto fare la storia delle domande che ha saputo porsi. Se fossero state altre, e se a porle fossero stati altri uomini, la nostra realtà sarebbe quella che conosciamo? 
Ripercorrere il lungo, avventuroso cammino dei creatori della scienza, se a farci da guida è un magistrale esperto della divulgazione come Timothy Ferris, significa addentrarsi profondamente in un terreno affascinante e familiarizzarsi con i più grandi temi e i più inquietanti paradossi della ricerca scientifica, dal concerto di sfere cristalline del cosmo aristotelico alle moderne teorie del tempo immaginario e delle supersimmetrie.
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