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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.  If things get a little dicey towards the end of the book, and the theories become increasingly obscure and difficult to understand, perhaps it is because they are so new that they have not been thoroughly tested yet.  Perhaps their ugliness is an indicator that they are simply untrue.  So many of the great physicists have intuitively believed that when it is finally given to us to understand everything about the universe, the answers will be so simple that we will wonder how we could have missed them for so long.

At any rate, this is a terrific book, filled with the thrill of discovery and the often amusing stories of the discoverers.  If you are one of the millions who gave up on Stephen Hawking's book, but want to know what was in it, try this much easier read.  It's got all the same info, but it's actually geared towards those of us who may not already know it all.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Timothy Ferris Links:

    -ESSAY: A New Pathway to the Stars (TIMOTHY FERRIS, 12/21/03, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: At Dawn, the Columbia: On Friday morning, 24 hours before Columbia's re-entry, I caught sight of the shuttle and found myself thinking about the seven astronauts aboard. TIMOTHY FERRIS, 2/03/03, NY Times)     -Timothy (Author's Website)
    -COLUMN ARCHIVE : Timothy Ferris (Contentville)
    -EXCERPT : Quantum Weirdness From Timothy Ferris' The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report
    -Life Beyond Earth : A Film by Timothy Ferris (PBS)
    -ESSAY : How will the universe end? (with a  bang or a whimper?) : The fate of the cosmos is not fiery cataclysm, say the latest telescopic observations, but a gradual descent into eternal, frigid darkness (Timothy Ferris, April 2000, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Many Questions, Some Answers (Timothy Ferris, Forbes ASAP, 10.02.00)
    -ESSAY : Switching The Light Fantastic (Timothy Ferris, Forbes ASAP, 08.21.00)
    -ESSAY : "Seeing Stars" (Timothy Ferris, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY : IDEAS & TRENDS: OUT THERE; The Space Telescope: A Sign of Intelligent Life (Timothy Ferris, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE EMPEROR'S NEW MIND Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics. By Roger Penrose (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of THE JOY OF INSIGHT Passions of a Physicist. By Victor Weisskopf (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of THE DARK MATTER Contemporary Science's Quest for the Mass Hidden in Our Universe. By Wallace Tucker and Karen Tucker  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of  DARKNESS AT NIGHT A Riddle of the Universe. By Edward Harrison  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of  THE ANTHROPIC COSMOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE By John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of   THE LEFT HAND OF CREATION The Origin and Evolution of the Expanding Universe. By John D. Barrow and Joseph Silk  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of  Unweaving  the Rainbow  Science, Delusion and  the Appetite for Wonder By Richard Dawkins  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of   THE MEANING OF IT ALL Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist. By Richard P. Feynman  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of   T. rex and the Crater of Doom By Walter Alvarez  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of   The Quotable Einstein Edited by Alice Calaprice  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of   DEFINING VISION The Battle for the Future of Television By Joel Brinkley   (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of  Emblems of Mind The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics By Edward Rothstein   (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of   THE FOURTH DIMENSION Toward a Geometry of Higher Reality. By Rudy Rucker  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of   VOLCANO WEATHER The Story of 1816, the Year Without a Summer. By Henry Stommel and Elizabeth Stommel  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of  'SUBTLE IS THE LORD ...' The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein. By Abraham Pais  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of  ARE WE ALONE? The Possibility of Extraterrestrial Civilizations. By Robert T. Rood and James S. Trefil  (Timothy Ferris, NY Times Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW : of  Encyclopaedias on CD-ROM  (Timothy Ferris, Scientific American)
    -REVIEW : of  RealSky CD: The Palomar  Observatory Sky Survey  Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 1996  (Timothy Ferris, Scientific American)
    -GERGEN DIALOGUE : with Timothy Ferris (David Gergen, Online Newshour)
    -DIALOGUE : Disharmony of the Spheres Guests: Timothy Ferris, Author and Host, The Creation of the Universe and  Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Astronomer, The Vatican Observatory; Curator, The Vatican Meteorite Collection. (Uncommon Knowledge, Hoover Institute)
    -INTERVIEW : with Timothy Ferris (Closer to Truth)
    -PROFILE: Things are looking up: Science writer Timothy Ferris turns his sights to stargazing (Heidi Benson, September 12, 2002, San Francisco Chronicle)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : with Timothy Ferris (Ann Online)
    -PROFILE : Brilliant Careers : Timothy Ferris : Disregarding our illusory firewalls of thought, he boldly goes where no science writer has gone before. (William Speed Weed, Salon)
    -PROFILE : Ferris makes his case about life ... somewhere out there (John Rogers, Associated Press)
    -ESSAY : Astronomical Angst (Ellen Levy, 2/26/97 , City Pages)
    -ARCHIVES : Ferris (Salon)
    -ARCHIVES : Ferris (Slate)
    -ARCHIVES : "timothy Ferris" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of Coming of Age in the Milky Way By Timothy Ferris (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Coming of Age in the Milky Way By Timothy Ferris (Marcia Bartusiak, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of GALAXIES. By Timothy Ferris (1982) (Richard Severo, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of GALAXIES By Timothy Ferris and Cosmos by Carl Sagan (James A. Michener, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of The Mind's Sky Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context . By Timothy Ferris (1992) (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Mind's Sky Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context (Dava Sobel, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE WHOLE SHEBANG A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report. By Timothy Ferris (1997) (Owen Gingerich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Whole Shebang (Milo Miles, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report (New Statesman, Tom Wilkie)
    -REVIEW : of The Whole Shebang (L.D.Meagher, CNN)
    -REVIEW : of The Whole Shebang (Willard St. John, Knight-Ridder)
    -BOOK LIST : 100 or so Books that shaped a Century of Science : Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang (1997)  (Philip and Phylis Morrison, American Scientist)
    -REVIEW: of Seeing in the Dark' by Timothy Ferris (Marcia Bartusiak, Washington Post)

Book-related and General Links:

    -American Scientist : The Magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
    -NY Times : Science
    -Physics Web
    -Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler
    -LINKS : Physics Links (Hypography Sci-Tech)
    -ESSAY : The Big Bang Theory of Science Books (John Horgan, December 14, 1997, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Physics and faith: The luminous web (The Christian Century, June 02 1999, Barbara Brown Taylor)
    -ESSAY : Colliding Galaxies and the Fate of the Milky Way  (Elan Moritz - 8/3/01)
    -ESSAY : Popular Science Writing Requires Inspiration, Perspiration (A.J.S. Rayl, May 11, 1992 , The Scientist)
    -ESSAY: The Question of Time (Mitchell Stephens, Feed Mag)