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Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life Hardcover – November 9, 2010
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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.
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
Top customer reviews
Very interesting book, he should write one on the moon :)
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!
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...
This is one of those paperback Vine books that I've reviewed, where I am planning on actually purchasing one or more copies of
the hardbound version when it is available (soon)!
Anyone with any interest in our solar system, or the Earth itself, but most of all any interest in truly understanding our Sun (and its relationship to us),
needs to read this book. It is a true gem, unlike anything previously written about this topic. You will love reading it, and learning from it...
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...". This does not make any sense to me.
p60. The area of earth which experiences an annular eclipse is not always one sixth, it can be much less, and almost zero.
p181. Queen Maud Land is 70 degrees South, not West.
p201. It is not true that no star shines for more than 11 billion years. Red dwarf stars will burn for hundreds of billions of years.
p212. Electrical forces do not bind the atomic nucleus together, electrical repulsion tries to force it assunder. The Strong Nuclear Force binds the nucleus together.
p237 Cohen claims that the present solar maximum will be very strong, but it is now close to maximum, and the sunspot count is very low.
p389 Cohen tells us that 240 degrees F is 11% above boiling point. This is true if we convert to the Celsius scale, but not Fahrenheit, and on the kelvin scale it is 3%. So talking about percentages is actually meaningless.
p523. The scattering of alpha particles by atomic nuclei is due to electrical repulsion, and is nothing to to do with quantum mechanical tunnelling.
p584. The sun was not 186 million miles in diameter around 2.5 billion years ago!
There are other things which seemed wrong or unclear, which makes one wonder how much else is wrong. I think Cohen should stay away from Science writing in future!