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The Sun's Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet [Paperback]

Bob Berman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 17 2012 9780316090995 978-0316090995
The beating heart of the sun is the very pulse of life on earth. And from the ancients who plotted its path at Stonehenge to the modern scientists who unraveled the nuclear fusion reaction that turns mass into energy, humankind has sought to solve its mysteries. In this lively biography of the sun, Bob Berman ranges from its stellar birth to its spectacular future death with a focus on the wondrous and enthralling, and on the heartbreaking sacrifice, laughable errors, egotistical battles, and brilliant inspirations of the people who have tried to understand its power.

What, exactly, are the ghostly streaks of light astronauts see-but can't photograph-when they're in space? And why is it impossible for two people to see the exact same rainbow? Why are scientists beginning to think that the sun is safer than sunscreen? And how does the fluctuation of sunspots-and its heartbeat-affect everything from satellite communications to wheat production across the globe?

Peppered with mind-blowing facts and memorable anecdotes about spectral curiosities-the recently-discovered "second sun" that lurks beneath the solar surface, the eerie majesty of a total solar eclipse-THE SUN'S HEARTBEAT offers a robust and entertaining narrative of how the Sun has shaped humanity and our understanding of the universe around us.


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Review

PRAISE FOR THE SUN'S HEARTBEAT:

"This might be the last book you ever read-afterward, you can't help but stare, in wonder, directly into that fiery ball in the sky. From ancient sun worship to the latest in Sol science, Bob Berman makes THE SUN'S HEARTBEAT shine."—Sam Kean, author of The Disappearing Spoon

"Bob Berman's The Sun's Heartbeat glitters and skips with the joy and excitement of science at its best. He explains things I always wondered about without diminishing the star-gazer's sense of awe."—Mark Kurlansky, Author of Salt and Cod

"Berman directs your attention to our neighborhood ball of nuclear fire, telling its story with charm and wit....He makes a compelling case for putting on a wide-brimmed hat, stepping outside, and giving a second thought to the star that illuminates and powers our planet."—Discover Magazine

"Berman shakes readers out of a complacent understanding of his subject with startling facts conveyed in companionably witty prose....He finds much that is surprising in the relatively commonplace....making this common sight mysterious again, remind[ing] us of questions we had forgotten to ask."—Columbus Dispatch

"Berman's pitch-perfect book goes a long way to answering the questions you thought were too dumb to ask, but it does much more than simply provide facts....Berman is a master storyteller, whose passion and enthusiasm for astronomy has served the public well for decades....Read this and you will never look at the sun in the same way again."—New Scientist

"A good read....light-hearted....[and] fun...Above all, the author's enthusiasm for science shines through."—Wall Street Journal

"A deeply enjoyable book...[Berman] comes across as the world's most enthusiastic science teacher....[who] writes 'everything about the sun is either amazing or useful.' It's hard not to enjoy a book when someone says that and does their cheerful best to back it up."—Washington Post

"We won't take the Sun for granted any longer if astronomy popularizer Berman...has anything to say about it....'Everything about the Sun is either amazing or useful,' Berman writes, and then proves it, without a doubt."—Publisher's Weekly

"A quick, smart and colorful biography of 'yon flaming orb.'"—Kirkus Reviews

"An engaging consciousness-raiser that entertains as it informs about our neighborhood nuclear furnace."—Booklist --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Bob Berman, one of America's top astronomy writers, wrote the popular "Night Watchman" column for Discover for seventeen years. He is currently a columnist for Astronomy, a host on NPR's Northeast Public Radio, and the science editor of Old Farmer's Almanac. He lives in Willow, New York.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasury of facts in an enjoyable style! Aug. 30 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book, filled with the most amazing facts about our own star; the sun. Written with a light and often humorous tone rather than that of a dry, musty textbook, this book will entrance and delight anyone who wishes to learn about our greatest and nearest celestial object. I never found a boring page or passage; instead, this book is filled with amazing facts about the sun, life here and its effects on the Earth as a whole. Read this one folks, and be prepared to say "I never knew that!" often as you read on!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Sun and Sun-Related Phenomena Dec 23 2013
By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This book contains much more than I was expecting. The author covers a whole variety of topics all pertaining to the sun. These include its formation and structure, the sunspot cycle, solar emissions, determination of the Astronomical Unit, human vision, health effects of skin exposure, auroras, various solar phenomena, solar eclipses, the solar neutrino problem, global climate change and much more. The author discusses each topic to a sufficient depth but without going into too much technical detail and without undefined specialized jargon, thus making the book accessible to a wide audience. The work of various individuals involved over the centuries in solar research in some form or other is also highlighted.

The writing style is friendly, casual, often humorous, lively and quite captivating. I found this book full of fascinating information which can be perused completely pain-free. I believe that absolutely anyone can thoroughly enjoy this charming book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  49 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magical Mystery Tour July 22 2011
By Michael Mah - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is delightful. I found myself discovering things I never knew, and with each turn of the page I felt like a wide-eyed child experiencing the wonder of the universe for the first time. Bob's writing style alternates between delightful entertainment and brilliant science. He captures your imagination with storytelling and revelation. Ever since "Secrets of the Night Sky" and "Cosmic Adventure," I've been a fan. Buy this book. Give it to your friends and family for birthdays or just for fun. They'll love you for it! I bought ten copies :)
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Solar Truth Sept. 9 2011
By Taylor McNeil - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In some ancient cultures, the Sun was one of the central deities, if not the deity: I'm thinking of the Incas and the ancient Egyptians, for starters. After reading Bob Berman's The Sun's Heartbeat, you get a sense that they might have been on to something. Berman collects many facts from many angles about the Sun, mostly about how it makes all good things possible on Earth--and a few bad ones, too.

Let's start with a Sun-related factoid: not just the planet we're on, but everything we are made of, is the result of stars bursting and spilling forth through the universe, until those random wandering atoms collected together enough of their kind to form a gravitational pull, and thus gather more of their floating brethren, eventually making the planet Earth and all the atoms on it, including you and me. (Which brings up another question, the really hard question, of how material can be conscious of itself; but that's for another review, of Soul Dust by Nicholas Humphrey.)

Berman marches through science history, as humans slowly doped out what the Sun is made of and what it does. It was often the story of people ahead of their time, mocked for their wacky beliefs, which turned out to be much closer to the truth than that which came before. Berman details, for instance, Edward Walter Maunder, and his wife, Annie, who kept decades of lonely vigils for sunspots, and proposed the solar origin of terrestrial magnetic disturbances, spot on in their conjectures.

As the chapters whiz by, more and more bewitching information flows our way, like the magnetic particles that make up the solar wind that smothers our outer atmosphere and occasionally leads to the spectral display of auroras. He makes the case for tossing some of your savings away to be able to experience a total eclipse; I'd read of others' obsessions about total eclipses, but only Berman convinced me it would be worth the trouble. Likewise, for a summation of global warming--more accurately, anthropogenic climate forcing--Berman provides the clearest account I've ever read, showing how the Sun's variability in output of solar energy plays an important role in global warming and global cooling, but not enough to explain the changes causing the warming of our northern winter nights. The key point is that Berman can untwist the factors he cites in global warming, unraveling the different causes and effects.

Not all is up to those standards: his chapter on the positive health implications of the Sun--all that vitamin D our skin makes thanks to UV rays, mostly in the summer for us folks in northern latitudes--is strong on rosy optimism, and weak on facts. He pooh-poohs a National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine meta-study that was cautious about claims for the efficacy of vitamin D in cancer fighting, mainly on the grounds that it didn't say what he wanted it to say. He also trumpets a doctor who claims that the rise in autism is due to lack of vitamin D, without much more than coincidence to back the claim.

And yes, Berman is in love with his own sometimes goofy sense of humor. At one point, I counted a wisecrack in every paragraph for several pages. It's something that could annoy some people, but I found it mostly either mildly amusing or innocuous. It keeps the book from being too dry--though he's such a good writer, he should realize that he really doesn't need use humor as a crutch, if that's what it is.

Overall, a very strong and enjoyable book. Would that more science writers knew how to make their material as compelling as this.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, frightening, fascinating! July 30 2011
By Frank Coulon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Rarely in my 96 years have I come across a book that is so entertaining on so many fronts! Everyone on Earth should understand this stuff, and yet it is new and strange and fascinating and a little disturbing to learn we are bound to a star so powerful that even small fluctuations in the solar wind and flares can have devastation consequences for us. Berman's funny quips and easy style makes for entertaining and educational reading about a subject we should all know. Everyone should read this book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best popular science books I've ever read Sept. 28 2011
By Suzanne Amara - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I absolutely loved this book. Bob Berman took a subject I was only halfway interested in, and made me, by the end of the reading, think that the sun is probably the most fascinating object in the sky. Berman writes so well---with a light but not silly touch, with enthusiasm and with a gift for explaining complicated concepts in a way that makes them both easy to understand and compelling to read about.

I was vaguely aware of the importance of sunspots before reading this, due to my father being a ham radio operator, but now I realize how exceedingly important they are. I was already planning to try to see the next solar eclipse in the US in 2017, but now I am going to make it a life goal---Berman's descriptions of seeing total solar eclipses make you feel like your life would be incomplete without seeing on. I've always loved to see rainbows, but now I understand them much better.

The scary part of the book is the talk about global warming. I understand now that is is real, and why the sun's changing moods can make it seem not as bad as it is. It's extremely frightening, and anyone who doubts it should read this book.

The last chapter, about how the sun will be at the end of its life, was beautifully written. It makes me realize that what happens to Earth, although of course of extreme importance to you and me, in on a global scale not at all important. We live because of the sun, the sun doesn't depend on us in any way, and it will be here long after we are long gone.

Highly recommended!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and frustrating Aug. 18 2011
By John Graham-Cumming - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher because I was interested in the topic and knew almost nothing about the Sun. The book is both fascinating and frustrating. The fascination comes from the broad scope of the book and it's coverage of the history of astronomy as it relates to the Sun. There's a great deal of information presented in an approachable style. I particularly enjoyed the practical information (such as the changing direction of compass needles during the day caused by the Sun and what to look for in a rainbow). Equally, the book makes a strong case for seeing an eclipse and the aurora things to do before you die. And the excursions into Vitamin D and Global Warming are interesting.

But I was frustrated on two counts: I wished there had been more science and the author's never-ending chirpy, flippant style got on my nerves. The book rarely delves deeply into the scientific topics (and there are a couple of places where it meanders off: e.g. when talking about the non-relationship between birth dates and the moon) and I kept wanting more. When sun spots are first introduced they aren't clearly explained and I was left to go to Wikipedia to find out more. But I can live without the science given that this is an introductory book.

The author's style really bothered me. I can almost imagine (if he has teenage children) his kids rolling their eyes at Dad's incessant lame patter. For example: "Galileo and Schneier published digs at each other that resembled the dialogue between two neurotic Woody Allen characters", or "Yet outside a few chance school assignments, they are now as forgotten as the Broadway headliners of the Gay Nineties". Statements like that come thick and fast.

I spotted a couple of inconsistencies (but this was a preview copy): Kirchoff's importance in electronics as mentioned and then two pages later the author laments that no one has ever heard of him and there's an odd calculation involving 91 billion one-megaton bombs having the same force as 91,000 one-megaton bombs.

Overall, if you know nothing about the Sun and can get through the style issues this is a short, quick introductory read. Good for the beach while you soak up some of the Sun's vital rays.
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