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The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began

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4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  106 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
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 magnet ...more
Paperback, 211 pages
Published April 12th 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published March 19th 2007)
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Stephen Case
I don't get to read a lot of popularizations in the course of my research on nineteenth-century astronomy, so when this one came across my desk I was on the one hand excited about a change of pace ("captivating, fast-paced" says Dava Sobel on the cover) and on the other figuring I'd be skimming much of it and rolling my eyes a lot. I tend to do this with books that have long and overly-dramatic subtitles like "The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Bega ...more
Brendan
Clark explores the history of modern astronomy and its study of the sun, building his tale around Richard Carrington, whose name has been applied to the event he documented, a solar flare sending its plasma directly at the Earth. Carrington happened to be lucky, documenting a sun spot just when it erupted, and thus making the intuitive leap to understand the relationship between the flare and the magnetic storm that disrupted worldwide communications and set fire to telegraph offices over the ne ...more
Lisa Pollison
Apr 08, 2014 Lisa Pollison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book about a Victorian Astronomer, Richard carrington, who is largely forgotten unless you work in Astronomy or worry about Solar Mass Emssions ending the world through a huge blackout! Carrington was 1 of 2 people who mapped the sunpots that later resulted in the great solar storm of 1859. "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 d ...more
Angie
Nov 15, 2013 Angie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm an astronomy buff, but not necessarily a history-of-astronomy buff, and I admit that I wasn't sure that the beginning of solar astronomy really warranted a whole book -- weren't there more exciting topics in astronomy to spend my time on? But I loved this book. There were so many pieces to this story that I had been unaware of. First of all, I appreciate the incongruity of the fact that solar science was led by observatories in England -- not the natural location for such things, it seems. B ...more
Susan
Sep 20, 2010 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A history of modern solar astronomy, the book begins with William Herschel, who first questioned the possibility of terrestrial effects of sunspot activity. The book is most dramatic with heroes such as George Hale and Greenwich Observatory's Walter Maunder as well as villains such as Lord Kelvin. Among the pioneering solar observers the book includes Richard Carrington, known as much for his disappointments in his pursuit of a scientific career as for his discoveries. Carrington recorded the fi ...more
Mary Mcqueen
Aug 22, 2016 Mary Mcqueen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I love history of science books. The more recent the book the less extraneous info is wasted. Clark recounts clearly the technical limits of the times, letting the reader feel the pain of the limits of discovery, and personal details which interfered with progress. The study of sunspots, the discovery of patterns in their occurrence, and the difficulty proving any correlation between sun cycles and other meteorological and economic phenomena start this book. The reader exults with the discoverie ...more
Karen
Sep 02, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Very good, very interesting, and very readable. While the book is primarily historical in nature, I liked that he brought it up to date on the latest science, and explained what the current thinking is at the end. It was interesting too to read it after recently reading The Age of Wonder, which covers a similar period and talks about a lot of the same people. This is a much more focused book than The Age of Wonder since it concerns itself only with astronomy, and primarily with solar astronomy, ...more
Jef
Sep 14, 2009 Jef rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: multnomah
Modern astronomy (in England) started with the observation of a solar flare in the great solar storm of September 1 1859. It was five times the strength of the Halloween storm of 2003. I note with some trepidation that the last few years have been cooler but the warming trend is continuing. If this cooling trend is related to the solar minimum then the next few years are going to be sweltering if the solar maximum pans out.
Peter Lanagan
Jun 24, 2015 Peter Lanagan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a solid read. Clark uses the life of Richard Carrington to frame a wider exploration of solar astronomy in the 19th century. Someone who has taken a college astronomy intro course will not find much new scientific information about solar physics. However, the historical discussions of solar observations by Carrington and others as well as the politics of British astronomy were quite interesting.
Katherine
Wow! Not exactly a simple read, but increased my respect for astronomers of history and today. Also neat to see how study of one area of science can lead to findings and conclusions in other areas. New studies will help determine whether global warming is driven by today's solar magnetic activity or more by today's pollution.
Converse
Solar flares and associated electrical phenomena on earth, focusing on the first person to see one, Richard Carrington in 1859, the controversy over a link between sunspots and electromagnietic disturbances on the earth, and its resolution. Also discusses Carrington's personal life, which took a turn unsuitable for a respecable British gentleman.
Amerynth
Jul 27, 2012 Amerynth rated it liked it
Recommends it for: astronomers
Recommended to Amerynth by: Chris
While the overall story of the man who discovered the sunspots and their influence on the Earth was interesting, I found the writing to be a little dry. Good for someone who has an interest in astronomy... but not for a general reader.
Holiday
Aug 06, 2008 Holiday rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The sun is even more powerful than I thought, controlling things about our earth that we haven't even dreamt of yet. This is a fascinating look at the science and the scientists who have focused on the sun.
Shahidah
Mar 15, 2014 Shahidah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-reads-3
Fascinating! Makes me wanna drop everything in my life and study astrophysics <3
Ruth Seeley
May 12, 2010 Ruth Seeley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disclosure: Dr. Stuart Clark is a client. You know, another one of those clients of mine who can write. :)
Doug Page
It's all too rare that a science-based book is hard to put down. This one is not only well-researched, Stuart Clark knows how to turn research into writing. Good read.
David
Jan 15, 2016 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating turning point in science that I never knew much about--the discovery of solar flares and how it nudged astronomy from star-charting to more active investigation.
Kathryn Lilly
Mar 19, 2012 Kathryn Lilly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
very interesting...I learned lots about the sun I did not know..
John pierard
May 22, 2012 John pierard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
lovely book.
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Feb 18, 2012
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Journalist, award-winning author and broadcaster, Stuart Clark is a brilliant storyteller. Fiction or non-fiction, his work is written with conviction and with passion. In recent years, he has devoted his career to presenting the complex and dynamic world of astronomy to the general public.

His latest work is the pioneering trilogy The Sky's Dark Labyrinth. In the way that CJ Sansom's hugely succes
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