Synopses & Reviews
"In this sprightly and spirited narrative, a few determined scientists set out to correlate the pattern of dark spots on the Sun's face with the igniting of earthly aurora, the interruption of telegraph (later satellite) transmissions, and even the price of wheat in England. Of course, the world thought them mad. The 'sun kings,' as Stuart Clark so aptly names these pioneers, persevered through ridicule, animosity, and personal tragedy to forge a link across space and fathom the true nature of the Sun. I found myself captivated by the characters, the colossal problems they tackled, and the stunning conclusions they finally reached. I commend Clark for combining so many interesting ideas into a single, fast-paced, beautifully crafted story."--Dava Sobel, author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, and The Planets
"Herein lies the tale of intrepid astronomers, across time and cultures, who were the first to observe, identify, and document our misbehaving Sun. But by the time you are done, you realize that the story's main protagonist--the one with all the personality-is not any one of the scientists, but the Sun itself. A delightful, informative read."--Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History, author of Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
"Stuart Clark illuminates the dawn of astrophysics by tracing the rise and fall of Richard Carrington, the man who first glimpsed how events on the Sun affect our lives on Earth. No faceless automatons, the scientists in this tale blend a passion for their work with the more worldly passions of pride, jealousy, greed, and lust."--Robert P. Kirshner, Clowes Professor of Science, Harvard University
"Stuart Clark's The Sun Kings is undoubtedly the most gripping and brilliant popular-science history account that I have ever read. It is informative, accurate, and relevant. Clark's ability to write so vividly makes me seethe with jealousy."--Owen Gingerich, author of The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus
"Clark tells a gripping story with several intersecting personal dramas that make unexpectedly exciting reading for a book with such a substantial academic theme. I learned a thing or two about how it was first realized and then proved--over the objection of the powerful Lord Kelvin--that the magnetism thrown off the Sun reaches the Earth. Those not familiar with the overall story will benefit even more from the discussion and analysis."--Jay M. Pasachoff, coauthor of The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium
"In this well-researched and very well-written book, Clark tells the embattled, little-known history of modern astronomy, a spry tale full of intrigue, jealousy, spite, dedication and perseverance. Peopled with a large, colorful cast, author and editor Clark (Journey to the Stars) delivers a tale rich in conflict and passion, beginning with William Herschel, an 18th century pioneer of telescope construction, who sets the status quo when he's ridiculed for discovering a relation between sunspot activity and grain harvests. In the 19th century, Clark covers a period of 'deep crisis for British science,' which saw the Astronomer Royal, George Biddell Airy, do all he could to suffocate solar research in England because he couldn't believe 'in any link beyond mere sunlight between the Sun and Earth.' Naturally, Airy couldn't stop progress, and solar observation continued through the 19th century under the direction of Greewich Observatory's Walter Maunder; in the 20th century, Clark describes the work of George Hale, instigator of the research that would eventually vindicate old Herschel by showing a profound correlation between sunspots and agricultural production; in the present, Clark considers the success and legacy of space-based observatories (SOHO and STEREO) and land-based radio telescopes. Though it might sound dry, Clark's parade of historical characters dramatize the narrative nicely, and Clark conveys the significance of their scientific observations with plenty of context and thorough references, making this a fascinating work for both casual stargazers and serious astronomy buffs." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Herein lies the tale of intrepid astronomers, across time and cultures, who were the first to observe, identify, and document our misbehaving Sun. But by the time you are done, you realize that the story's main protagonist the one with all the personality is not any one of the scientists, but the Sun itself. A delightful, informative read." Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History, author of Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
Clark tells a gripping story with several intersecting personal dramas that make unexpectedly exciting reading for a book with such a substantial academic theme. I learned a thing or two about how it was first realized and then proved--over the objection of the powerful Lord Kelvin--that the magnetism thrown off the Sun reaches the Earth. Those not familiar with the overall story will benefit even more from the discussion and analysis.
"Stuart Clark weaves all these events and ideas together in a fascinating tapestry." Jan Stenflo, Nature
"It is a remarkable book combining science, history, and human drama." Jeffrey R. Kuhn, Nature Physics
"Stuart Clark deserves praise for making the period so accessible." Alex Soojung Kim-Pang, American Scientist
Well paced and well chosen, Clark's history will delight science readers.
Science journalist Stuart Clark, in his new book , places [English amateur astronomer Richard] Carrington at the fulcrum of a century-long debate over the effects of sunspots, because he drew on two very different sorts of scientific observations--studies of sunspots and of the Earth's magnetic field--that together would eventually allow astronomers to see the relation between solar and terrestrial activity.
The techniques of Carrington and his contemporaries gave birth to the new science of astrophysics, which can probe questions about the structure, function, and origin of the stars, planets, and the universe at large. . . . From Carrington's observations, Clark spins a lively account of seminal discoveries in spectroscopy, photography, and theoretical physics that led to the present-day understanding.
This is a fascinating and fast-paced narrative.
Clark's style of popular historical storytelling effectively conveys the personal, interpersonal, and political aspects of scientific lives and work. He creates clear and interesting nontechnical explanations for solar phenomena and researchers' methods and analyses. Both general and academic readers should appreciate how his narrative demonstrates the multigenerational nature of solar astronomy and relates the contemporary importance of accurate verbal and artistic descriptions of natural phenomena. . . . [T]here can be little doubt that the history of science and public science education both stand to benefit immensely from hybrid forms of historiography like Clark's.
Winner of the 2007 Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Cosmology and Astronomy, Association of American Publishers
Shortlisted for the 2008 Royal Society Prizes for Science Books, General Prize
In September of 1859, the entire Earth was engulfed in a gigantic cloud of seething gas, and a blood-red aurora erupted across the planet from the poles to the tropics. Around the world, telegraph systems crashed, machines burst into flames, and electric shocks rendered operators unconscious. Compasses and other sensitive instruments reeled as if struck by a massive magnetic fist. For the first time, people began to suspect that the Earth was not isolated from the rest of the universe. However, nobody knew what could have released such strange forces upon the Earth; nobody, that is, except the amateur English astronomer Richard Carrington.
In this riveting account, Stuart Clark tells for the first time the full story behind Carrington's observations of a mysterious explosion on the surface of the Sun and how his brilliant insight (that the Sun's magnetism directly influences the Earth) helped to usher in the modern era of astronomy. Clark vividly brings to life the scientists who roundly rejected the significance of Carrington's discovery of solar flares, as well as those who took up his struggle to prove the notion that the Earth could be touched by influences from space. Clark also reveals new details about the sordid scandal that destroyed Carrington's reputation and led him from the highest echelons of science to the very lowest reaches of love, villainy, and revenge.
The Sun Kings transports us back to Victorian England, into the very heart of the great nineteenth-century scientific controversy about the Sun's hidden influence over our planet.
About the Author
Stuart Clark is a former editor of the United Kingdom's best-selling astronomy magazine, "Astronomy Now". He currently writes for the European Space Agency and is a regular contributor to such magazines as "New Scientist" and "BBC Focus". He is the author of several books, including "Journey to the Stars" and "Deep Space: The Universe from the Beginning".
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
Prologue: The Dog Years 1
Chapter One: The First Swallow of Summer 9
Chapter Two: Herschel's Grand Absurdity 25
Chapter Three: The Magnetic Crusade 47
Chapter Four: The Solar Lockstep 58
Chapter Five: The Day and Night Observatory 71
Chapter Six: The Perfect Solar Storm 80
Chapter Seven: In the Grip of the Sun 93
Chapter Eight: The Greatest Prize of All 98
Chapter Nine: Death at the Devil's Jumps 117
Chapter Ten: The Sun's Librarian 129
Chapter Eleven: New Flare, New Storm, New Understanding 148
Chapter Twelve: The Waiting Game 168
Chapter Thirteen: The Cloud Chamber 179
Epilogue: Magnetar Spring 188