The ancient Egyptians regarded the sky as a kind of tent canopy. Thirty centuries later, astronomer William Herschel argued that the sun belongs to a huge cluster of stars (a galaxy, as we call it today) and charted great swaths of intergalactic space through a telescope. How the human species slowly awakened to the vast reaches of space and time is the story absorbingly told by popular science writer Ferris (The Red Limit, Galaxies). His narrative humanizes the scientific enterpriseGalileo emerges here as a careerist, and Johannes Kepler as a self-loathing neurotic. Although it covers well-trod ground, this remarkable synthesis makes broad areas of science accessible to the layperson, from Darwin's and Lyell's investigations of the age of the earth to modern physicists' quest for a perfectly symmetrical, hyperdimensional universe.
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