Supercolossal yellow dwarf, terrible and sublime, cosmology unto itself—the sun. What’s not to love? Richard Cohen is certainly smitten, and Chasing the Sun is a brilliant labor of love, a heady synthesis of the star’s influence on science, art, religion, literature, mythology and politics. “I had no idea of the enormity of the undertaking, nor did my wife, agent or publisher, and took almost eight years to complete it,” says Cohen. There is boggling range to his fascination and wonder with our solar system’s central star. Here, Cohen covers the art of navigation and the art of nudism; the story of sunspots, gravity, rainbows; the presences of Stonehenge and medicine wheels; and even the sun’s touch on Euripides, Shakespeare and artist David Hockney. “I found myself at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory [at the California Institute of Technology] taking in the latest findings of solar physics,” he says, “examining the farther shores of oceanology, traveling to Arctic Norway to learn about seasonal affective disorder, engaging the new discipline of astroarchaelology.” The book itself could be likened to the formation of a star, a steady, albeit much faster, gathering of materials—stories, events and all the fine print in lieu of interstellar dust—that coalesce into a shimmering piece of work.
Cohen’s 10 things you might not know about the sun:
1. A quarter of people sneeze when exposed to sunlight. Pathologists have dubbed this affliction the Attishoo Syndrome.
2. The sun is brighter than 85 percent of the Milky Way. On Earth, however, the brightest sustained light is not from the sun, but from the Sky Beam at the Luxor Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
3. When the sun and moon are aligned, our bodies are stretched, making each of us taller, albeit by a factor of ten to the minus 16th.
4. In pagan times, the sun's birthday was celebrated on Dec. 25. In 354 A.D., Liberius, Bishop of Rome, decreed that day as the birthday of Jesus Christ.
5. In parts of India, when an eclipse is imminent, pregnant women smear their bellies with clarified butter and cow dung to offset its supposed harmful effects.
6. When Britain finally accepted the Gregorian calendar, and Sept. 2, 1752, was followed by Sept. 14, 1752, rioters protested that their lives had been robbed 11 days.
7. In nearly all cultures, the sun is seen as male, but in German and Gaelic, it is female.
8. The hottest surface temperature ever recorded on Earth is 1360 degrees Fahrenheit, on Sept. 13, 1922, in the Libyan Sahara.
9. The sun's core burns at a sustained 27,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
10. One in six Americans will develop skin cancer.
For a list of the best nonfiction books of 2010, click here.
Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life
By Richard CohenRandom House / November / 9781400068753 / $35.00
This book was featured in the Kirkus Best of 2010