Science writer Washburn's state-of-the-art solar survey opens with a straightforward account of the birth, life, and death of stars in general, and proceeds to detail--none too clearly at times--the fine structure of our particular luminary and the processes by which it generates energy: fields expanded by the unpublicized wealth of data gathered by the ill-fated Skylab. Astounding recent developments follow: Hill's disputed oscillations in the solar diameter; Eddy's ""shrinking sun"" hypothesis; and Davis' attempt to capture solar neutrinos--an experiment which, in failing to detect the predicted particles, may yet end up standing accepted physical/atomic theory on its head. Variations in solar luminosity and their effects on global weather patterns are treated next, amplified by studies of dynamic planets such as Venus and Jupiter which contribute enormously to our understanding of Earth's atmosphere. There's a chapter on the sun's role in the origin and development of life on Earth (which sometimes presents theories as facts), including the various ""solar catastrophe"" hypotheses purporting to explain such puzzling phenomena as the extinction of the dinosaurs, glaciation, and magnetic reversal. The wind-up is a discussion of solar energy: passive solar heating and cooling, biomass conversion, and solar-generated electricity vs. nuclear power and oil/coal; predictably, but justifiably, Washburn comes down firmly on the side of clean, safe, inexhaustible solar power. Not as careful or as infectiously enthusiastic as Mars at Last (1977), but with some well-merited boosts for the oft-maligned NASA; adequate, then, for those who like readable information in a hurry--and aren't too concerned about the fine points.