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Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life Hardcover – November 9, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Cohen (By the Sword) visited 18 countries to gather information for this ambitious and unusual literary opus, including Peru, where he witnessed the reenactment of an Inca ceremony welcoming the summer solstice, and Japan, where he climbed a snow-covered Mt. Fuji. He hunted the mythology embedded in the works of Shakespeare, Nabokov ("I must be the only person to have read Lolita for its Sun images"), Dante, Chaucer, and other authors, and personally examined the orientation of the Egyptian Pyramids and European cathedrals. This vast effort touches on the modern age shepherded by Copernicus and Galileo, and the author labels 200 discoveries related to solar energy in the 1870s a "scientific revolution" which would lead directly to the hydrogen bomb. He goes on to sound a cautionary note on climate change extremism, warning that there is still no consensus on the influence of solar cycles on climate (he goes so far as to raise the possibility of another ice-age). Cohen was compelled to write "the sort of book I'd like to read," a risky position for a writer seeking a broad readership, but one that more than pays off.

From Booklist

Formerly a publisher, Cohen decided to write the work he couldn’t sign an author for: a cultural and scientific history of the sun. The result is this information-packed miscellany on solar worship and solar studies, studded with evocative illustrations throughout. Not content to integrate research from books, Cohen traveled extensively for his project, visiting places like Mount Fuji, which some people profoundly connect with the sun. Spanning the globe from China to Antarctica to Stonehenge, Cohen’s curiosity pulls in monuments and gods, scientists and their discoveries about the physical sun, and solar fads such as tanning. If polarized sunglasses didn’t make it into Cohen’s enthusiastic excursus, popular songs like the Beatles Here Comes the Sun did, showing Cohen in a culturally eclectic light. With its pages as likely to turn from sunspots to sunlight’s play in famous paintings, Cohen’s medley will surprise and delight his readers, who will absorb humanity’s evolving view of the sky’s blazing orb, from deity to fusion-powered furnace. With its cultural ambit, Cohen’s compendium might better the popularity of a straight-up science title such as Nearest Star (2001), by Leon Golub and Jay M. Pasachoff. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068754
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068753
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,590,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. A. J. Clark on June 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Richard Cohen has compiled an encyclopaedic book covering every aspect of the Sun - in mythology, culture, the arts, astronomy and the other sciences. It is well worth reading for the many interesting facts and anecdotes.

However, it does contain many flaws - for one thing, it wanders off-topic at times. He talks about Arthur C. Clarke's story "The Star" (my favourite short story) and Asimov's "Nightfall", which are great stories but nothing whatsoever to do with the sun. He also talks about global warming, being seduced by Piers Corbyn's theories, to which he devotes several pages, where he swallows the assertion by climate-change deniers that scientists tampered with the evidence. There is also a discussion of photography, which admittedly requires light to work, but it is not strictly to do with the sun, any more than the workings of the eye are.

Another flaw is the fact that the setting sun shines along some of the streets of new York on certain dates because they are aligned 29 degrees to the East, which Cohen makes quite a big thing of. But the same sort of thing would happen if it was 19 degrees or 9 degrees, or the the East, so it is absolutely unremarkable.

There are many other examples of science which is badly explained and confusing, or just plain wrong:

p25 The sun is not overhead at midday at the equinox, except at the equator. Also, the sun does not seem to "linger for several minutes" at dawn.

p26 The speed of the Earth varies by 3%, not 6%.

p49 The explanation of precession of the equinoxes is unclear. I know what he is trying to say, but cannot make sense of his explanation.

p53 "Most pyramids oriented to the Equinox were aligned so that, on that date, they seemed to swallow the setting Sun...".
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The sun is all around us, both literally and now, with Richard Cohen's comprehensive, compelling tome, figuratively.

The author does a wonderful job tackling an enormous subject and observing it from both scientific and cultural perspectives. The reader learns of the sun's relationship to Earth and its people through seven years of research and travel to 18 different countries. We learn of the sun's significance on a very large scale - from its life-giving properties and influences in our solar system to its place in our art, climate, rituals and mythology, to name a few. That's a daunting task and Cohen skillfully gathers an enormous amount of information and condenses it into a fascinating and accessible tale.

The real success of this book overall, though, lies with Cohen's skill in facilitating a conscious relationship between us and our solar system's only star. By book's end, it is impossible to ever see the sun the same way again. Recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Fascinating subject matter - talks about the sun in all its scientific and cultural aspects from early religious beliefs through the Renaissance and modern solar physics as well as appearances of the sun in art and literature. Chapters explore tangentially related topics such as atomic bombs, oceanography, global warming. There are lots of pictures. Footnote comments at the bottom of most pages amplify the text, and bibliographical footnotes are listed in a section at the back. The notes section has cartoons scattered through it, which made me examine a part of the book I would ordinarily have ignored.

Unfortunately this book is riddled with tiny factual errors which are detrimental to the overall effect. Most of them I passed over with a scowl, thinking something didn't "seem right" but not really consciously registering the mistake. However, one that really stuck in my craw was the blithe assertion that the name "Lucifer" appears anachronistically in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. It doesn't. Five minutes' worth of research was enough for me to find out what the Hebrew _actually_ says (and it isn't "Lucifer," which first appeared in the medieval Latin Vulgate translation, BTW.) I wonder how many other mistakes I didn't catch - even subconsciously - simply because I am ignorant of the subject matter. Perhaps these will be fixed in the final version, but I have to base my review on the version I read, which is an Advance Uncorrected Proof.

So why did I award four stars to a "nonfiction" book that is patently untrustworthy? Because it was interesting. Because, giving the benefit of the doubt, I hope that the factual errors will be corrected in the final press version.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Since I originally reviewed this book (see below), I've also discovered some factual flaws, thus I am downgrading my rating to 3 stars. A good example of these flaws (whether due to poor editing or to the author's lack of knowledge) is the statement on page 235, where he says, "Even more dangerous than high noon is sunset, because it makes sun-gazing easier, even though the strength of UV rays is barely diminished".

The fact is that the strength of UV rays IS GREATLY diminished at sunset. I think that what he really meant was that gazing at the sun at sunset is dangerous because the viewer looks directly at the sun for much longer than he or she would, in bright sunlight, thinking it's not at all dangerous.

However, what is quite dangerous is the author's comment that the strength of UV rays is "barely diminished" at sunset! The reason this is dangerous is that it might lead the public to think that UV radiation is not significantly diminished (hour by hour) in the early morning, or after 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon, and thus they might decide to not exercise outside in the early morning or the late afternoon hours. Exercising (walking, biking, running, etc.) is MUCH safer in the early morning and in the late afternoon, because both UVA and UVB are significantly less at those times!
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Original review:

I love this book! It is so well written and so comprehensive, and I've learned so many things about our Sun that I never knew, or never imagined.
The writing is exceptional, as is the author's research, and I simply can't imagine anyone who has read "Chasing the Sun", giving it less than 5 stars...
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