Ferris, Timothy 1944–
Ferris, Timothy 1944–
(Timothy Thomas Ferris)
PERSONAL: Born August 29, 1944, in Miami, FL; son of Thomas A. (a publicist) and Jean (a literary critic; maiden name, Baird) Ferris; married Carolyn Dinner Zecca, April 20, 1985; children: Patrick Thomas. Education: Northwestern University, B.A., 1966, graduate study, 1966–67; Rutgers University, postgraduate study.
CAREER: Writer and professor. United Press International, New York, NY, reporter, 1967–69; New York Post, New York, NY, reporter, 1969–71; Rolling Stone, New York, NY, associate editor, 1971–73, contributing editor, 1973–80; Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY, professor of English, 1974–82; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, professor of journalism, 1982–85; University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, professor of journalism, beginning 1986, then professor emeritus. The Creation of the Universe, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), host, 1985; MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, Public Broadcasting Service, essayist, 1992–95; Future Quest, PBS, senior producer, 1993–94; Life beyond Earth, PBS, host, 1999.
MEMBER: PEN, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mensa, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, American Beethoven Society, Authors Guild, National Association of Science Writers, Sports Car Club of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Institute of Physics prizes, 1978, for The Red Limit: The Search for the Edge of the Universe, 1989, for Coming of Age in the Milky Way; American Book Award in science nomination, Before Columbus Foundation, 1981, for Galaxies; American Association for the Advancement of Science awards, 1983, for "Beyond Newton and Einstein," 1986, for The Creation of the Universe; Dorothea Klumpke-Roberts Prize, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 1986; Guggenheim fellowship, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1986–87; Emmy Award nomination, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, 1986, for The Creation of the Universe; Pulitzer Prize nomination, Columbia University, 1989, for Coming of Age in the Milky Way; Astronomical Society of the Pacific prize for lifetime achievement.
The Red Limit: The Search for the Edge of the Universe, Morrow (New York, NY), 1977, revised edition, 1983.
Galaxies, Sierra Club (Berkeley, CA), 1980.
Space Shots: The Beauty of Nature beyond Earth, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1984.
The Creation of the Universe (television special), Public Broadcasting Service, 1985.
(With Bruce Porter) The Practice of Journalism: A Guide to Reporting and Writing the News, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1988.
Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
(Editor) The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics, foreword by Clifton Fadiman, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.
The Mind's Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
The Universe and Eye: Making Sense of the New Science, illustrations by Ingram Pinn, foreword by John Gribbin, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1993.
Great Science Writers of the Decade (sound recording), Dove Audio (Stow, OH), 1995.
The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
Life beyond Earth (television special), Public Broadcasting Service, 1999.
(Author of introduction) Celestial Nights: Visions of an Ancient Land: Photographs from Israel and the Sinai, photographs by Neil Folberg, Aperture Foundation (New York, NY), 2001.
Life beyond Earth, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
(Editor, with Jesse Cohen) The Best American Science Writing, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
Coming of Age in the Milky Way, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to books, including The Future of Spacetime, Norton (New York, NY), 2002. Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, Harper's, Playboy, New Republic, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Chronicle of Higher Education, Forbes, Life, National Geographic, Natural History, Nature, Newsweek, Time, Readers' Digest, Scientific American, Nation, New York Times, and the New York Times Magazine.
Author's works have been translated into fifteen languages.
ADAPTATIONS: The Mind's Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context was adapted for audio cassette, Dove Audio, 1992; Life beyond Earth was adapted for audio cassette, read by the author, New Millennium, 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Originally a journalist for the New York Post and United Press International, and a former editor for Rolling Stone, Timothy Ferris has turned his life-long fascination with astronomy into a number of successful books that explain this complex science in layman's terms. "A lot of what I do consists of pointing out that there is more to the world than this world, and more to this world than we know," Ferris once told CA: "This idea got hold of me years ago, and never let go. It is my author."
In his book, Galaxies, Ferris takes the reader on an imaginary starship that travels from Earth to the edge of the universe. "When Timothy Ferris extends an invitation to join him on a guided tour of the universe, you would be wise to accept," noted George Alexander in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The book is "at once a linear, visual, historical, futurist, cultural and philosophical journey to forever, as good books on astronomy ought to be," wrote Richard Severo in the New York Times. "It is easy to read because the author insists on being as incisive as he is imaginative. He gives us the data we need to appreciate the premise, but we are not inundated by numbers that would be, at the least, intimidating, and frequently speculative."
In his review of Galaxies for Saturday Review, Isaac Asimov claimed the lavishly illustrated text is "a very good candidate for the most beautiful book in the world…. In outsize opulence, it spreads its photographs over a square foot and more…. The captions are concise and clear," Asimov continued, "and Ferris's running commentary could stand on its own as an essay designed to give the reader a dramatic overview of the universe." "One wades into it not knowing quite what to expect and leery of romantics, and is enthralled," remarked Eliot Fremont-Smith in the Village Voice.
Ferris's next astronomy book, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination. In this work, Ferris covers 3,000 years of the history of astronomy in less than 500 pages. Much of Coming of Age in the Milky Way is filled with enlightening stories about the various personalities who contributed to science, such as Plato, Aristotle, Copernicus, Ptolemy, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein. "This is not to say that Mr. Ferris presents us with a book of anecdotes," noted Marcia Bartusiak in the New York Times Book Review. "To the contrary, he allows us to view humanity's growing cosmic awareness—the result of either plodding effort or serendipity—as the consummate human adventure, in which intellectual genius is fed by both jealousy and friendship, and scientific progress is measured as much by failure as by triumphs."
Although Bartusiak felt that Ferris rushes through the more recent history of astronomy, and "tends to use [too] much of the technical jargon of the modern-day specialties," she concluded that "the richness and texture of Mr. Ferris's overall presentation … far outweigh the book's feverish denouement." Other critics offered more positive remarks about Coming of Age in the Milky Way. For example, Peter Gorner wrote in the Chicago Tribune that Ferris's work "is the best book about the cosmos since Carl Sagan's Cosmos."
The Mind's Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context opens with this intriguing comment by Ferris: "In this book I offer a few thoughts on the relationship between mind and universe as seen through the lenses of two innovative fields of scientific research—neuroscience, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence." Ian Stewart, writing in London Review of Books, interpreted the prominence of French Surrealist Rene Magritte's bizarre painting of a pipe at the book's opening as pivotal to their shared intent: "Not emphasising the unreality of what is inside the frame; but challenging the assumption that everything outside it is real." The book is deliberately structured in a nonlinear, seemingly randomized, fashion, consisting of a number of essays, or "frames", on the nature of reality and on UFOlogy that pose tantalizing insights to pique the questioning imagination but that do not necessarily provide ready answers. As Ferris notes, they can be read in whatever order the reader wishes. Readers are challenged to ponder and mentally juxtaposition these frames, and to interpret on their own the greater whole they form. In the New York Times, reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote: "What stands out in one's mind after a reading of Timothy Ferris's diverting new book … is its curious bits and pieces." He concluded that Ferris, "ask[s] some intriguing questions. If the answers aren't quite there, he has enriched our anticipation." Stewart found The Mind's Sky "a splendidly stimulating and imaginative book." John Barrow, reviewing in New Scientist, concluded: "Its language is clear and engaging and its sources in the scientific literature are clearly flagged. There are as many books about the achievements of scientific inquiry as there are about the problems that face us as individuals, communities and a species. There are not many that succeed in both areas with such style."
James Trefil, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, commented of The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report: "In this cleverly named book, veteran science writer Timothy Ferris takes us on a tour of the horizons of current thinking about the origin of the universe and the fundamental nature of matter. His purpose in The Whole Shebang, at least in part, is to explain why scientists today often argue that we cannot understand the universe (the largest thing we can think of), unless we understand the nature of subatomic particles (the smallest things we can think of)."
The book starts out with a whirlwind introduction to such cosmological concepts as the Big Bang Theory, gravitational lensing, the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect, the Tully-Fisher method, "dark matter," the evolution of quasars, galaxies and stars, then progresses on to quantum physics, symmetry, broken symmetry, renormalization, string theory, chaotic inflation, the multiverse (as referenced in the book's title), and quantum weirdness. Wrote Owen Gingerich in the New York Times Book Review: "A skilled and experienced popular writer, Mr. Ferris serves as one of the best guides for the curious reader. But the initiation requires careful attention, and despite his felicitous style the trail occasionally rises straight uphill." Graham Farmelo, in a review in New Scientist, expressed mixed feelings about the book: "Ferris's account is bound to give many readers enormous pleasure. But it is too casual in its use of hastily explained jargon for newcomers to the field. For readers with a nodding acquaintance of cosmology, however, Ferris has a produced a splendidly readable summary of the topic and has collected together enough notes to keep those wishing to know more busy for months hunting down further references." On the other hand, Farmelo found that: "For those of us who look to science writers to provide critical perspective on modern research, the unremitting orthodoxy of The Whole Shebang makes it a little disappointing. Ferris has sat at the feet of the great practitioners, studied his subject with exceptional diligence and become too reverential. So although there is much to enjoy here for admirers of state-of-the-art science journalism, they will be disturbed to see that one of its ablest practitioners appears to have gone native." Gingerich concluded that the book encompasses "a breathtakingly wide canvas, and for a brief description of some of the major conundrums of the quantum universe, Mr. Ferris is admirably lucid."
With Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril, Ferris looks at the enthusiastic work of amateur astronomers and its importance to the scientific discipline of astronomy. Because of the easy availability of powerful, sophisticated equipment once only accessible to professionals, as well as the time they can spend probing space, amateur astronomers now make valuable contributions to what is known about the universe. In addition to offering information about leading amateur astronomers and sharing his own experiences as a stargazer, Ferris also gives readers a significant amount of basic information about the night sky and how to become astronomers themselves. Reviewing the book for Science News, a critic noted: "Seeing in the Dark is an inspirational look at ordinary people doing extraordinary science."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Ferris, Timothy, The Mind's Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Chicago Tribune, August 10, 1988, Peter Gorner, review of Coming of Age in the Milky Way.
London Review of Books, May 14, 1992, Ian Stewart, review of The Mind's Sky, p. 148.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 14, 1980, George Alexander, review of Galaxies; May 18, 1997, James Trefil, review of The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report, p. 4.
New Scientist, July 25, 1992, John Barrow, review of The Mind's Sky, p. 41; April 19, 1997, Graham Farmelo, review of The Whole Shebang, p. 46.
New York Times, August 26, 1982, Richard Severo, review of Galaxies, p. C18; January 9, 1992, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Mind's Sky, p. C20.
New York Times Book Review, July 17, 1988, Marcia Bartusiak, review of Coming of Age in the Milky Way, p. 1; May 11, 1997, Owen Gingerich, review of The Whole Shebang, p. 9; June 1, 1997, p. 41.
Saturday Review, December, 1980, Isaac Asimov, review of Galaxies, p. 71.
Science News, October 5, 2002, review of Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril, p. 223.
Village Voice, December 3, 1980, Eliot Fremont-Smith, review of Galaxies, p. 56.
Timothy Ferris Home Page, http://www.timothyferris.com (November 7, 2005), biography of Timothy Ferris.