the milky way
Grand Central Publisher, $27
Meet the Milky Way in their own words.
The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy takes a tour of our home in the cosmos from an unexpected perspective. Astrophysicist and folklorist Moiya McTier presents herself not as the author, but as the fortunate human vessel through which the Milky Way has chosen to tell her story. She then lets the galaxy take her, with humor, heart, and a heavy dose of sarcasm.
The book alternates chapters between science and mythology, reflecting McTier’s two majors (her biography says she was the first student in Harvard University history to study both). “Many of you don’t realize this, but the mythos were some of the earliest attempts at scientific research by your species,” the Milky Way tells us.
The Milky Way is telling its story now because it’s tired of being ignored. Once upon a time, humans looked at the bright patch of stars in the sky to know when to plant crops or prevent flooding. We tell stories about the importance of the Milky Way in the origin and destiny of the world.
Our galaxy ate her up: For an entity that spends most of its time ripping apart smaller galaxies and watching its own stars die, “their stories made me feel loved and needed and, perhaps for the first time in my long existence, more useful that was ruined. But in the last few centuries, technology and light pollution have alienated humanity. “At first, I thought it was just a phase,” says the Milky Way. “Then I remembered… that several hundred years is actually a long time for humans.”
So the Milky Way decided to remind us why it is so important. His autobiography covers general scientific questions about galaxies, such as where they come from (“When a gas cloud loves itself very much,” the Milky Way explains, “it hugs itself very tightly, and after a few hundred millions of years, a baby has been born the galaxy, keep the storks out please.”) He also discusses what galaxies are made of, how they interact with other galaxies, and how they live and die. The book then zooms out to cover the origins and possible ends of the universemysteries like dark matter and dark energy, and even humanity’s search for other intelligent life (Serial number: 8/4/20).
The author strives to explain the scientific jargon and technical tools astronomers use to study the sky. Many popular astronomy writings gloss over how astronomers think about cosmic distance or what exactly a spectrum is, but this book does not. If you’ve ever been curious about these internal details, the milky way got you covered
McTier’s version of our home galaxy is heavily anthropomorphized. The Milky Way is brash, vain, and arrogant in a way that can hide a secret insecurity. Its central black hole is characterized as the physical embodiment of the galaxy’s shame and regrets, a source of deep existential angst. And his relationship with the Andromeda galaxy is like a long-term, long-distance romance, with each galaxy sending stars back and forth like love notes. until the two can eventually merge (Serial number: 05/03/21).
This might have felt misleading. But McTier’s efforts to make the metaphors work while keeping the science accurate and up-to-date made the premise endearing and entertaining.
I laughed twice on page 1. I learned a new word on page 2. I started reading the endnotes from the beginning because it was instantly clear that I wanted to read them all. I read this book while traveling in rural upstate New York, where the sky is much clearer than at my home outside of Boston. the milky way It reminded me to look up and appreciate my home in the universe, just as its narrator intended.
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