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The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began Paperback – April 12, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this well-researched and very well-written book, Clark tells the embattled, little-known history of modern astronomy, a spry tale full of intrigue, jealousy, spite, dedication and perseverance. Peopled with a large, colorful cast, author and editor Clark (Journey to the Stars) delivers a tale rich in conflict and passion, beginning with William Herschel, an 18th century pioneer of telescope construction, who sets the status quo when he's ridiculed for discovering a relation between sunspot activity and grain harvests. In the 19th century, Clark covers a period of "deep crisis for British science," which saw the Astronomer Royal, George Biddell Airy, do all he could to suffocate solar research in England because he couldn't believe "in any link beyond mere sunlight between the Sun and Earth." Naturally, Airy couldn't stop progress, and solar observation continued through the 19th century under the direction of Greewich Observatory's Walter Maunder; in the 20th century, Clark describes the work of George Hale, instigator of the research that would eventually vindicate old Herschel by showing a profound correlation between sunspots and agricultural production; in the present, Clark considers the success and legacy of space-based observatories (SOHO and STEREO) and land-based radio telescopes. Though it might sound dry, Clark's parade of historical characters dramatize the narrative nicely, and Clark conveys the significance of their scientific observations with plenty of context and thorough references, making this a fascinating work for both casual stargazers and serious astronomy buffs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Among the several pioneering solar observers whom Clark discusses, an Englishman named Richard Carrington holds center stage, as much for his disappointments in his pursuit of a scientific career as for his discoveries. To cite but one of his credits, Carrington proved the sun has differential rotation and hence is gaseous. Though accorded recognition in 1859 by Britain's Royal Society, Carrington never obtained the jobs in astronomy he desired, was ever pressed by the demands of owning a brewing business, and made a puzzling marriage to a woman who was illiterate and, as Carrington tragically learned too late, had an angry beau in her background. Other scientists in Clark's cast are far more historically prominent (William Herschel and George Hale, for example), but the author has recovered a touchingly dramatic story in Carrington. Well paced and well chosen. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691141266
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691141268
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,433 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William R. Forstchen on June 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Before going into any details I must congratulate the author of this work for his expectional writing style and brilliant research.

This book is of particular interest to me because I'm an historian with a specialization in the history of technology and the author of "One Second After," a novel about the impact of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) event. Up front I pray that "The Sun Kings" will get the recognition it deserves and wind up on the best seller list. EMP is not only a potential miitary threat, it is also a potential natural/environmental threat that could cripple our country.

It was not until after my novel was released in March 2009 that I heard of the "Carrington Event." A friend, having read "The Sun Kings" insisted I read it. Read it? I devoured the book in one sitting. Not only did it open my eyes to other aspects of EMP, I was compelled to turn page after page because of the author's brilliant, well written and even witty delivery. He is an exceptional author who truly brings a fascinating and all but unknown field of history alive. (His footnote on a 19th century test, using chickens to test the velocity of tornadoes is hysterical, even though those of us who lean towards PETA will cringe!)

If you are interested in the history of technology read this book. Astronomy, read this book. National security in the face of potential EMP scenarios, definitely read this book! I now recommend it to any who will listen.

I hope someday I can meet the author, it will be an honor to shake his hand. He is a great historian, he is also an author who through a fascinating tale raises an issue of deep concern to all of us. Another solar cycle is upon us (and please spare me any Mayan Prophecy foolishness!
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I have been an amatuer Solar observer for twenty years and own an extensive library of volumes dedicated to Solar Physics and the history of Solar observation."The Sun Kings:The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How modern Astronomy began" by Stuart Clark is one of the best that I have ever read.I was amazed that on allmost every page was a jewel of history that that I was previously unaware of.Mr Clark's writing was easy to follow and a joy to read.I highly recomend this book to anyone interested in the history of Solar observation.
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A scientist - I am going to have to refresh my memory as to which one - highly recommended this book, "The Sun Kings," as an information source having to do with the 1859 Carrington Event, in an appearance on Richard C. Hoagland's excellent long-form webcast, "Other Side of Midnight." I bought this book on the strength of that recommendation, and it turned out to be even better than expected. "The Sun Kings" is not a long book and it could not be reasonably called complete. For instance, I picked up other very interesting information about historic English astronomer John Herschel and his involvement with the then-new field of photography from the Encyclopedia Britannica. But for a relatively quick account, for a general reader, of the early history of the science of astronomy as we know it today, "The Sun Kings" is terrific. It would be hard to over-recommend this book. The Carrington Event refers, at least in part, to an electromagnetic pulse from the sun and its destructive effect on technology of the day such as telegraphs.
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Loved it! I've been an amateur astronomer for 40 years and have read nearly everything I could get my hands on about the progression of astronomy from the hands of the amateur to the hands of the professional astronomers and astro-physicists of today but most of what was in this book about the development of solar astronomy was all new to me. In addition to that it got me very excited about all that can be seen on the sun through the high quality solar scopes that are available to us today. It emphasizes how much our climate is being effected by what goes on on the sun and how it is possibly at least partially responsible for the climate changes that our earth goes through periodically. I would highly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in astronomy or even science in general. I guarantee you will learn something new!
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Extremely well-written. Its main focus begins by documenting the 1959 Carrington Event and proceeds to discuss how that CME started observer-astronomers on the road to becoming scientists -- critical thinkers who had to figure out what the Sun actually is and whether or not its activity does or does not have an affect on Earth's weather, climate, and electrical infrastructure. The Sun Kings are William Herschel, son John Herschel, Richard Carrington, and E.A. Maunder. Their work spanned over 100 years, from the late 18th century through the early 20th century.
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In his book, The Sun Kings, author Stuart Clark introduces the reader to both the early history of solar astronomy and astrophysics and the reasons why such studies are important today. Clark begins by telling of the events near September 1st, 1859 in which the Earth was bombarded by a huge solar storm. While the effects of this storm were readily observed around the planet, only one person seems to have witnessed the cause, a huge solar flare on the Sun's surface. This man, Richard Carrington, forms the the central figure of Clark's narrative but he is not the only scientist who contributes to the story. Along the way we meet William Herschel and his son John, Warren de la Rue, George Airy, George Ellery Hale and a number of other figures whose work will gradually shed light on (pun intended) the murky physical connections between our world and the star it circles.

As is often the case in biographical sketches of a scientist's work, the story begins before Carrington's contributions and continues after he meets his tragic end in what be seen as a mid-life crisis gone horribly wrong. In this sense, while Carrington may seem like the subject of the book, the bigger theme is how humans came to understand anything at all about an object that could not be touched, sampled or controlled. In presenting this, Stuart does a good job of describing the science and the culture in which it took place without getting bogged down in the technicalities of the work. By presenting the material first with a pair of near catastrophic events, the author engages the reader and then holds on by revealing the events and personalities that shaped the work done. Gone is the sort of inevitable march towards knowledge approach that many simple treatments of scientific topics use.
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