The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy

This tell-all memoir of our galaxy (272 pages) was published in August of 2023 by Grand Central Publishing. The book takes you to the heart of the Milky Way. David read The Milky Way and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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The Milky Way

An Autobiography of Our Galaxy

Moiya McTier

This is a bracing nonfiction book with one (significant) fictional detail: It’s narrated by the Milky Way. That’s right! The Milky Way is here to tell you her life story.

She talks about her birth 13 billion years ago. She divulges how she gets along with her neighbors — the galaxies we call Andromeda Sagittarius — which she tore to pieces a few hundred million years ago. She muses about how she makes stars; turns out, it’s in batches and probably faster than you might think. She introduces us to dark matter and the enormous black hole at the galaxy’s center that she calls Sarge.

Would it surprise you to learn that the Milky Way has a strong personality? She’s imperious and a bit haughty — like a slightly younger version of Dame Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey. She seems to like us humans, but mainly as a diversion. (The author Moiya McTier said that when she wrote lines for the Milky Way, she imagined the voice of her own cat.)

The Milky Way routinely drops mind-blowing ideas, like this bit on the topic of consciousness: ‘Some of your philosophers are even starting to believe that consciousness is an inherent quality of the universe, something that every amount of matter possesses in different quantities. In other words, I can think and communicate even though I don’t have what you would consider a brain.’

Does this mean any system has some form of consciousness? A cactus? A desert? The NYU Alumni Association? And why is it that the deeper we get into science, the more it sounds like super-groovy yoga talk?

Another remarkable truth revealed in this book is that one human lifetime is entirely too short to understand much about the galaxy. Science, particularly on this scale, is an ongoing conversation. And the participants who started these chats are already dead. There’s a highly reductionist view of the life of Copernicus that he authored a book that said, Hey, I’m pretty sure the Earth revolves around the Sun. Here are my notes. Good luck figuring out everything else! - C.

There’s something nice about that idea, that what makes humanity great might be our ability to write things down and then tell somebody else — to get our story right and share it, and to hope that the listener hears what we’re saying.

This book combines the natural wonder we feel when we look up at the night sky with the understanding of an astrophysicist. It’s a great introduction to the mysteries of our galaxy and beyond, sparking awe and curiosity — and an ongoing conversation with the cosmos.

Pssst… there’s an excellent audiobook version narrated by the author.

… your philosophers have postulated that consciousness isn’t a quality inherent to humans, or even living animals. According to them, consciousness, or sentience or awareness or whatever you want to call it, is the result of how a system functions, not a consequence of what it’s made of. Some of your philosophers are even starting to believe that consciousness is an inherent quality of the universe, something that every amount of matter possesses in different quantities. In other words, I can think and communicate even though I don’t have what you would consider a brain. So if you’re imagining I’m anything like one of you, cease immediately! It’s insulting, and that human-centric mindset will just make it harder for you to understand all that I am going to deign to teach you.

If your question was more like, ‘How can the Milky Way talk to me,’ well, it’s not like human language is that hard to learn. You’re such simple creatures. — Moiya McTier

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