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The Sun's Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet Paperback – Jul 17 2012
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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