A remarkably comprehensive and engrossing synthesis of the sun’s influence on science, art, religion, literature, mythology and politics.
Former publishing executive Cohen (By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions, 2002) will not be confined in this study of all things that have been touched by the sun. After more than eight years of research and visits to nearly 20 countries, he ranges about in gleeful fascination, marching through the rich, ancient history of stargazing, from the Babylonian and Egyptian astronomers to Pythagoras, Aristotle, Chinese cosmology, Copernicus, Galileo and Newton. The author discusses the story of sunspots, the art of navigation and the art of nudism, the breathtaking presence of Stonehenge, medicine wheels and the Dancing Stones of Namoratunga in Kenya. He traces the evolution of the calendar, the advent of solar power and the daystar’s effect on the writing of Euripides, Shakespeare, Nabokov and Styron, and the paintings of Turner and Hockney—though these just touch the surface of Cohen’s breadth and depth. “Sometimes it is the direct subject of their creations,” he writes, “sometimes a symbol of what they have wanted to convey, infusing their work with an authority, even majesty, that no other force could match.” Finally, the author turns to the death of the sun, a brilliant story unto itself. After billions of years of evolution, in its “final stage” it will “simply dwindle away, a dark nuclear waste drifting in the vacuum, its life-giving journey done.” Ever enthusiastic, Cohen provides illuminating personal anecdotes, but he includes just the right amount of detail, never allowing the material to sprawl untethered.
Apollo, Ra, Inti or Huitzilopochtli—all would rock with delight at Cohen’s sweeping endeavor.