A magical mystery tour of seasons and starlight, rainbows and eclipses, circadian rhythms and jet lag, inner space and outer.
The text follows the morning-to-night cycle, whose ancient power Sims (Adam’s Navel, 2003, etc.) subsequently considers. He begins at dawn, noting the symbolic force of its arrival, and explains why the celestial colors can be so dramatic at that time. He assumes throughout that he has a scientifically naïve audience (do we really need to be told what a light-year is?), but he still deals with such sophisticated concepts as photons and quarks, cryptochrome and the libration of the moon. He also periodically refers to a poet, novelist, painter or dramatist whose words illuminate his point. Indeed, every page is chockablock with literary allusions, from Dickens and Dylan Thomas to The Phantom Tollbooth and Frankenstein. Sims makes effective use of the myth of Phaethon, the impulsive son of Apollo who stole the chariot of the sun, thereby earning a quick and fatal jolt from Zeus. He also distributes some tasty sprinkles of cultural history on his confection. Easter, for example, was scheduled near the full moon to accommodate late travel by pilgrims, and there are three types of twilight. Along the way, we get the history of cloud naming, the development of the telescope, stories about Darwin’s fascination with the movements of plants, shots at creationists and some hectoring about our stewardship of the planet. If the author slightly misquotes a line from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, or mistakenly says Mary Godwin was married to Percy Bysshe Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein, or misses one of the most famous allusions to a sundial (the “prick of noon” line from Romeo and Juliet), we readily forgive. A soft berry or two cannot mar an otherwise fabulous shortcake.
A walk with an erudite and entertaining docent through the most marvelous of museums.