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

I like the sun. It’s very useful, when you think about it. This chunky book by Richard Cohen has pretty much everything about the sun that you might want to know. I first read it in 2012 and remembered it being fascinating in parts but a slog in others.

Bookended by the author’s experiences seeing sunrise on Mount Fuji and sunset on the Ganges, the chapters are mainly devoted to the history of science and its gradual separation from mythology and religious belief. It is most definitely a history book, not a science book. There are some chapters about the arts – the one about science fiction is very appealing, particularly because the author appreciates Arthur C Clarke’s short stories – but they don’t quite seem to fit in. I like the ambitiousness of the project and of course there are plenty of fascinating facts. There is a generous selection of images: two sections of colour plates, black and white images printed every few pages and some cartoons at the back. It is certainly an epic read compared to the book about the moon I read last year. In what book (other than an encyclopaedia) would you find Van Gogh, neutrinos, Tolkien, deep-sea angler fish, Japanese emperors, Galileo, pyramids, albinism, CFCs, photosynthesis and opera?!

The fault with this book is the excess information. There is way too much, not all of it relevant. Every other page has footnotes to squeeze in more content and there are copious notes at the end. Some sections are about light (such as the history of photography) and go on for pages without a single mention of the sun. As for the history of calendars, timekeeping, tides, the deep sea and navigation, an overview would have been sufficient. The book should have been more concise, focusing on the sun without getting sidetracked. Some of the information is now out of date and I wonder if it would have been better to leave out new developments (new at the time the book was written, that is) and focus on the history.

First published in 2010.

4 thoughts on “Review of ‘Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life’ by Richard Cohen”

  1. Oh wowww this sounds like an intriguing book, I thought, this holds such great promise until I read about the unnecessary details… 🙁 Probably needed an editor! Great review as always, NS! I do love the cover though!

    1. The cover is wonderful isn’t it? I love how the sun (and moon) used to be drawn with intricate faces. I think in a different author’s hands it could have been a better book – this one just can’t help giving us lots of extra asides which don’t earn their place in the book. Thanks Jee!

    1. The sun is pretty useful. It does cause a lot of problems, but I forgive it 🙂 Yes there was too much extra material!

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