‘Coming of Age in the Milky Way’ by Timothy Ferriss

You know that old saying about “standing on the shoulders of giants”? I think about it a lot.

We so often take for granted all the wondrous inventions and scientific insights that surround us and power our world every day, and how someone had to discover that stuff. None of it was a foregone conclusion, much less something you could simply pick up from a book. Like when Eratosthenes correctly deduced the size of the Earth back in 240 B.C. They didn’t even know the planet was round until he did that!

As you can maybe tell, I’m fascinated with how these kinds of discoveries have come to be, and Timothy Ferriss’ book, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, takes you on a tour of how great thinkers over the past couple millennia have helped the rest of us shed our ignorance and better understand our place in the universe:

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.

In this archived 1988 review from the New York Times, astronomy and astrophysics journalist Marcia Bartusiak summed it up so well:

Over the centuries, the Egyptians’ low-ceilinged sky expanded outward more than 10 billion light years, a size that the ancients would have found incomprehensible. Coming of Age, aptly titled, chronicles this awakening of the human species to the vastness of our cosmos and shows us how each time the model of the universe was altered, tremors rumbled through such realms as theology and politics. It is an exhilarating, wide-ranging journey that takes us from the shores of the Mediterranean, where the second-century astronomer Claudius Ptolemy fashioned his creaky celestial spheres, to modern-day research institutes where theorists contemplate this and other universes bubbling out of a quantum vacuum.

This book is an invigorating chronicle of the past and ongoing adventures of human discovery, and I hope you’ll find it as delightful as I have.

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