Review

Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life

by Richard Cohen

With CHASING THE SUN, prodigious writer Richard Cohen presents a history of the Sun, chronicling his exhaustive journeys and explorations to remote places in search of a particular enlightenment. He has hiked mountains and traveled to faraway lands to seek out observatories and temples, and to witness spectacular heavenly events at the most advantageous sites possible. He has seen a total solar eclipse in person and looked upon many of the more than 3,000 structures on Earth that attest to our obsession with the Sun and its movements. In all, his research and explorations have led him to visit 18 countries over an eight-year period --- including India, Russia, Italy, Egypt, and China, the Land of Sunrise.

"Cohen shows us how we celebrate our star in our rituals and superstitions, how it affects the way we see ourselves and value other human beings."

Collecting a veritable mountain of knowledge and devoting incredible efforts toward his cause, Cohen charts the history of the Sun's effect on mankind and our fixation with it. This is an obsession he has cultivated quite passionately in himself, noting in his preface that his wife remarked many times to friends who asked about him that he was out "chasing the Sun." And this he did literally. Cohen's efforts have produced an historic work that is artful and exceptionally articulate, a collection of stories and information all revolving in some way around the star that gives us life.

 

These understandings about our Sun unveil the celestial body as more important than any single icon, more influential than any power or entity in human history. Our star's deep-seated influence on us has spanned geography and time, and led us to both fear and worship it, even to deify it. It has impacted every civilization, and Cohen reveals the Sun as continuing to affect our mythologies and fundamental beliefs. We see its influences in our superstitions, sciences, politics and genetics, and even in the eventuality of our future. Though Cohen laments modern-day civilizations as having lost our heritage in the Sun (Westerners most especially), he presents a picture of a fixation that is essentially primal.

Cohen shows us how we celebrate our star in our rituals and superstitions, how it affects the way we see ourselves and value other human beings. It has made technologies like timekeeping and navigation possible, and we use the Sun in modern medicine --- a field where the Sun's healing and regenerative properties have long been known. It represents energy, and through Cohen, we discover it as the basis behind many aspects of modern science. Spanning the Age of Antiquity up to the Information Age, Cohen covers various scientific and artistic disciplines and pays particular attention to the Copernican, Industrial and Scientific Revolutions; the latter half of the book is devoted to the Atomic and Space Ages. Those who look will see in his account a recurrent symbol in our star, present in modern theologies and beliefs, a force presented as the key to Earth's ecosystems. It is a picture of humans having managed to weave the Sun's imagery into the deepest recesses of our minds, bodies and souls.

Crucial issues to our way of life are discussed, including global climate changes, catastrophic events, renewable energy concerns, and mankind's future on Earth. Readers are familiarized with sun-related instruments and the history behind various devices. Lesser-known disciplines are breached, including the sciences behind fission, solar conversion, lexicography and dendrochronology. References to prominent literary, artistic and social figures abound as well, and there are many icons who enjoy unexpected appearances. Whole chapters are devoted to Christianity's effect on our current understanding of the Sun and the basis behind the quarrels of theologians and astronomers. And then Cohen finally devotes an impacting chapter to the eventuality of the Sun's fate.

Though the jargon in CHASING THE SUN is necessarily scientific, Cohen's explanations are very clear and so enthusiastically and lyrically presented as to reign in the reader's interest and allow audiences to share in his obvious enthusiasm for lifelong learning. His accolade truly befits the majesty and power of our life-giving star, and anyone even remotely interested in history or science should be totally enthralled by this epic story.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on January 12, 2011

Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life
by Richard Cohen

  • Publication Date: September 13, 2011
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0812980921
  • ISBN-13: 9780812980929