Epic cross-section of all of human culture. Fact-dense.
680 pages, ★★★★★
It’s so hot in Australia right now. The sun melted my chocolate yesterday. Today, my trusty iPod displayed the word “Temperature” instead of a map, before promptly shutting itself down in the car.
Chasing the Sun was thus a very apt book choice. It dances through science, but weaves in a lot of culture as well. British doors have sunrise-shaped windows. The Statue of Liberty wears a sun-shaped hat. Images as diverse as Jesus, Charlie Chaplin and Chairman Mao have all personified the sun in some way to imply power (be it spiritual, comical or political). Twenty countries currently have suns in their flags, and even the swastika was originally a line-drawn representation of the sun! According to Google Music, 2,500 copyrighted songs have been written about the sun (how many can you think of?), and nearly 500 trademarks feature the sun in their logo. The sun permeates our lives in ways that we are seldom aware.
This book is therefore relevant to everyone.
Like the sun itself, Chasing the Sun is dense. Reading it, I felt like one of the zillions of photons that takes 150,000 years to permeate the sun’s dense core, before finally reaching the surface (i.e. finishing the book) and zooming out at the speed of light. I read my next book very fast.
Author Richard Cohen is loaded with theories, such as Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, Daisy World, the evolution of ancient calendar systems, and natural therapies involving tomatoes (which protect against sunburn but get sunburned easily themselves) and TB (which was alleviated somewhat by sunlight exposure). Best of all, he touches on the theory that solar maxima (peaks in the natural fluctuation of our sun’s intensity) coincide with peaks of ‘hot-headed’ human activity. Certainly, the upheavals of 1905, 1917, 1948 and 1989 coincided with solar maxima. Coincidence, perhaps?
Richard Cohen’s work is in the same category as Bill Bryson, but is much more fact-laden. On one occasion, (on page 528) he even corrects Bill Bryson’s math! He balances science and culture in a way only paralleled by Arnold Taylor’s The Dance of Air & Sea. This book took 8 years to write, involved research trips to 17 countries and includes input from dozens of world-leading academics. Don’t let this much wisdom pass you by. Everyone should read this book. ★★★★★