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Shooting the Sun Paperback – October 26, 2004

7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this languidly paced historical set in 1840, Selena Cott is a young astronomer on a mission: to be the first scientist, man or woman, to photograph (or rather daguerreotype) a total solar eclipse. She joins an expedition setting out along the Santa Fe Trail, its stated purpose to prove that the eccentric genius Charles Babbage's "difference engine," a mechanical computer prototype, can reliably calculate the exact latitude of an eclipse. Selena is an American, but she was raised a tomboy in France by her sea captain father, and she brings to her frontier adventure a cultured European manner coupled with progressive attitudes about a woman's place in the world. This sets her at odds with the chauvinistic explorers on the expedition, chief among them William Henshaw Pryce, Charles Babbage's financial adviser. Pryce has a secret (and nefarious) plan to locate the remains of Babbage's fabulously wealthy great uncle Richard and claim the inheritance that remains intestate in England years after the old geezer's disappearance in America. Selena braves desert rigors, the condescension and perfidy of her colleagues, and savage Native Americans in her race toward the first scientifically recorded total eclipse in the American Southwest. While Byrd tacks on a mystery and thriller subplot at the end to create a semblance of tension, the book is mostly an engaging travelogue along the old Santa Fe Trail, served up with plenty of authentic frontier detail and enough lessons in early 19th-century navigation to satisfy the most clueless bushwhacker as to his or her exact longitude and latitude.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"An engaging travelogue along the old Santa Fe Trail, served up with plenty of authentic frontier detail."
--Publishers Weekly

"Full of insights and laced with  subtle humor.... The author shows us every detail of the trip, from the attitudes of  the day to how to find water in desert sand and preparations for a  Kiowa Sun Dance."
--The Denver Post


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (October 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553583697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553583694
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,848,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Byrd has created a thrilling story, rich with historical details and unexpected twists, and I had a hard time putting it down. This is a wonderfully crafted novel and one that continues to play in your imagination after the last page is read. TERRIFIC and highly recommended!!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By B. Capossere TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Shooting the Sun follows a group in 1840 as they head out on the Santa Fe trail to try and photograph for the first time (actually a more advanced form of daguerreotype) a solar eclipse so as to prove the effectiveness of Charles Babbage's prototype "difference engine", an early "computer" used to predict the timing and place of the eclipse. The proof will then allow Babbage to garner more funds to continue to develop his early calculator. The group is made up of Selena Cott, the young female astronomer/photographer who must overcome the obvious hurdle of her gender; William Pryce, Babbage's financial adviser and a man who has his own reasons for coming along; the expert explorer who sees no place for a woman in the wild; the young artist who scoffs at photography's ability to do any more than capture the sterile surface; the expert astronomer who is threatened both by technology and feminism; and the gruff wagon leader who tries to get them to Santa Fe alive past rough frontier folk, prairie fires, hostile natives, equipment prone to breakdown, their own infighting, and the sheer lost loneliness of the west. Added to the mix in shifts of perspective and geography are Babbage himself as he wends his way through London society and finance and his uncle Richard, who is thought to be dead (though not officially meaning Babbage can't claim his estate) but is actually alive and living with the natives out west.

The characters are strongly portrayed in sharp human detail and grow with the book and their experiences, rather than remaining static creations. Relationships form and erode, trust is offered and broken, strengths and weaknesses are transformed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Sackmann on January 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In selecting as his subject a fictional trek across the early American West, Max Byrd took a step away from his habit of writing about presidents, as he did in Jefferson, Grant, and Jackson. It seems, however, that he's not as adept without the unifying theme of the great man.

The jacket copy convinced me to move this one to the top of my reading list--it's got Charles Babbage, the pre-computer computer-maker, eccentric extrordinaire, and a wild cast of characters. Babbage's business partner arranges for an expedition to, ostensibly, observe a solar eclipse which will, incidentally, prove the worth of Babbage's machine.

There's a great book in a premise like that one, but Byrd didn't write it. There's a lot about squabbling among the expeditioners; there's a lot about people convinced and unconvinced of Babbage's wisdom and his machine's value. Ultimately, the novel tries to cover so much--1830s Britain; early computing machines; 1830s Washington, D.C.; hostile Natives in the West--that Byrd's 300 pages can't cover it all. Another 100 pages may have been enough to make this a compelling historical novel; as it is, I strongly recommend reading Byrd's "Jackson" instead. It's a longer, more specific novel on roughly the same time period, and it's much more expertly executed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bart Breen VINE VOICE on February 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
Max Byrd has been on my list of Historical Fiction writers to read for quite some time. I've run across several recommendations of his Presidential works and so when I stumbled across this book I assumed it would serve as a nice introduction to his work and a quick and enjoyable read.

Overall, that did indeed prove to be the case and overall the book read fairly smoothly, held my interest and provided me with some insights both to the geography and history of the areas concerned. The book itself is a bit more fiction than history in terms of the plot. The primary characters for the most part interact and brush against true historical figures and some insight is gained into some of the early science of photography. The plot itself while plausible, does not reflect much in the way of reality. The build up to the final resolution seemed to go by much more quickly than necessary to have missed an opportunity for more time and effort to bring it to a more satisfactory conclusion.

Nevertheless, Max Byrd is demonstrated to be a capable writer and I am encouraged to read his other Presidential Books in hopes that his reputation will be lived up to within those pages.

In short, this was certainly not the worst Historical Fiction I've ever read, but even so, it was not the best either.

3 Stars and a recommendation for a fast paced and easy to read story from a capable writer.
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