Thursday, January 20, 2011

CHASING THE SUN by Richard Cohen

Update, February 16, 2011: Here's a link to a new photograph of a black hole without a galaxy - perhaps the remains of a disintegrated galaxy? The black hole has a mass 20,000 times that of our sun.

I'm trying to blog about books that are relevant to my consulting but really want to mention Chasing the Sun by Richard Cohen (Random House 2010, 511 pages). It's subtitle is "The Epic Story of the Star that Gives Us Life" and it's an astonishingly broad survey, moving from Stonehenge to the Pyramids to Antarctica to India, about the sun in different cultures, and the sun as metaphor, myth, and the (literal) support of all life.

We take the sun for granted, except during eclipses, but it's the basis of a lot of human culture: calendars, navigation, astronomy, astrology, religion. Painting, music and literature. But Cohen doesn't stop there. He explains why the sun burns. What will happen, to it and to us, when it burns out. And the history of how we figured out as much as we have.

If I have one quibble with this book, it's with Cohen's conclusion that the jury may still be out on global warming, because not enough climate scientists have engaged with recent research suggesting the sun's activities are also contributing to climate change. Fair enough, but he does not address the possibility that human activities might be exacerbating the effects of a sun cycle. As I said, it's only a quibble.

Cohen is deeply engaged in every aspect of the sun, from art to solar physics, but wears his erudition lightly -- this is the only book I've read that includes cartoons among the end notes. And the book is supremely well-organized, a particular feat given its range, with generous illustrations.

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