Review: Coming of Age in the Milky Way

Timothy Harris’s 1988 book Coming of Age in the Milky Way is a charming history of astronomy and astronomers (and cosmologists and particle physicists) from the Greeks until about 1985: a narrative history of how mankind learned what it knows about the universe. His explanations for the layman are effortless until he reaches the stranger findings of particle physics; perhaps broken symmetry, collapsed dimensions, and strings are already too metaphorical for further abstraction.

String theory has taken some criticism in the popular press lately, in books such as The Trouble with Physics (reviewed by Russell Seitz in today’s Wall Street Journal) and Not Even Wrong. No doubt much of Mr. Harris’s final chapters should be updated, but his portrayals of scientists from Eudoxus and Aristarchus, Herschel and Darwin, to Gell-Mann, Chen Ning Yang, and Edward Tryon are outstanding.


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