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Eating The Sun

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  172 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
A story of the discovery of a miracle: the source of life itself, this book explains how biologists discovered photosynthesis and through it found an understanding of the history of our planet, and how life is inconceivable without it.
Paperback, 460 pages
Published August 1st 2009 by Fourth Estate (GB) (first published August 20th 2007)
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Nov 26, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Its an amazing piece of work. Sorry Oliver, but this is not popular science writing - there's too much depth for that. Is there anyone else in the world who understands photosynthesis at this level of detail from its intricate quantum mechanism to its interplanetary implications? but this book is far more than just description of science or biography of scientists - there is a cinematic, lyrical, positively transcendent quality to the writing which is so rare in any kind of 'science book'.

Elaine Nelson
A much heftier read than I was expecting, honestly. Other reviews describe the first third as being the most science-detail-heavy, but I found the whole thing a little overwhelming in both scientific and science-historic detail. I had to make the choice to let some of the particulars wash over me: the names and inter-relations of scientists. I think I could've gotten more of that, and retained it better, if I'd had a book group or class to read this with, to talk over the particulars, draw pictu ...more
I really wanted to like this and get on with the science in it. It is, after all, supposed to be popular science, and the biology of plants is something I'm really not well versed in at all. I did manage to understand some of the concepts -- the flow of electrons and how that drives energy production -- but overall, I found that it was a bit too high level for me. Although, it's odd, because parts of it were very pop-sciency in the way they focused on the careers of scientists and how they untan ...more
Jan 26, 2008 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i read this book because my boss wrote it, and i thought maybe it would help me figure him out. actually it turned out to be pretty fascinating. just don't give up in the first third, in which there is more detail than you'd ever want to know about the calvin-benson cycle, the rubisco enzyme, and photosystem II. farther into the book it explodes into a meditation on the nature of our planet and all its interconnected systems: plants, people, soil, water, air. there is a chapter in which he takes ...more
Lois Bujold
Nov 26, 2014 Lois Bujold rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: persons intereted in the history of science
Recommended to Lois by: Nick Lane, in a footnote in Life Ascending
More science journalism than science teaching. The book is divided into three sections, one describing the history of the discovery of how photosynthesis works on the chemical/atomic level, covering rather more than a century but reaching a climax in the second half of the 20th C., the second lightly covering evolution of plants, the third looking at the present and future and discussing global warming on a planetary scale, in terms of estimated terrawatts.

As the author himself points out, lots
May 14, 2010 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is way too in-depth and technical to be considered "popular science." It made me wish I were back in high school--when I was a lot more familiar with the terms and ideas explored in this book. However, it is an amazing work, and, by the end of it, you will know a helluva lot more about photosynthesis and its importance than you would've ever cared to know before. It is well worth the time and exploration of the dictionary to dig into this one. The global warming stuff--which is the boo ...more
Nov 13, 2015 Kenneth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In short, this is a 400 page book on photosynthesis. In the larger scope the book asks if we can somehow imitate and invent ways of copying the process of photosynthesis and develop methods and devices that can capture and store power and perhaps transfer carbon from the atmosphere.
You do not have to have a degree in chemistry to understand this book, by you should have an interest in chemistry. This book starts with the best introduction of any book that I have read in the past three years. It
May 16, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I normally read a number of books at once, with interest driving what I ultimately pursue and finish, this book brought itself to the head of my queue with its beautiful writing, a pace driven by the human lives of scientific discovery and discussion, and its successful explanation of complicated systems.

For a further summary of its comments, I recommend this review: (This review was how I initially became interested in the book). The following is more a
Karel Baloun
May 09, 2016 Karel Baloun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best earth science book that I've read this decade. The first section describes the details of photosynthesis in exquisite detail, exactly as I wish had my high school biology class, from the z-scheme, to rubisco, to The historical atmospheric levels of various gases that evolved it. Last section outstandingly summarizes energy and material flows in the modern world, including and surpassing Smil's detailed accountings.

Plants grow from the air, with their carbon from CO2, not soil. Nitrogen from
Apr 30, 2015 Tori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a dense book. The first part was an in depth look at the scientists working in the last century that discovered the interworkings of photosynthesis. Morton does not shy away from the scientific details, which were a bit over my head but I really appreciated their inclusion because I feel they are lacking in a lot of books. There is a lot of history and names included, and while interesting I didn't feel that Morton talked about them with the same wit as Bill Bryson does (I'm thinking of ...more
This book is an excellent introduction to photosynthesis, plants, and the current energy and climate crisis. Though without technical language, Morton's presentation of the process of photosynthesis may be a bit heady for some but the book is worth the effort. Morton writes well, even lyrically, situating the current science in its history and philosophy, highlighting many important historical figures. He brings this understanding, history, and current research to bear on the path ahead developi ...more
I had my hopes that this book would do for chloroplasts what Power, sex, suicide did for mitochondria. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. A poor start made it slow going for me.

Split into three parts, subtitled "a man's life," "the planets life," and "a trees life," it covers the discovery and comprehension of photosynthesis by people, the development of photosynthesis and how it affected the planet, and the implications of current changes on photosynthesis on plants (I.e., climate cha
Arvind Balasundaram
In this book, science journalist Oliver Morton, provides a lucid explanation of the basic process of photosynthesis, and why this plays a fundamental role in the sustenance of life on the planet. The technical level of this book starts at an advanced level in the first chapter, and then maintains an intermediate level for most of the book. Its greatest achievement is in the articulation of basic earth systems and cycles that make life possible, and how the thermodynamic principle of entropy so e ...more
Richard Williams
popular science tends to be written by one of two types of people. scientists who have decided that telling the world about science is as important as working in their lab and writers, usually journalists from magazines that got interested in some aspect of science, wrote a longish piece and then thought enough to make it into a book. this author is the second type but he writes, especially the first 1/4 of the book, on chlorophyll like a passionate scientist.

the first part reminded me of crysta
Aug 19, 2013 Eva is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Notes so far:

It was said that if everyone else had decided to go home and just leave Pauling to get on with things, Caltech's chemistry department would still have been one of the best in the country. - p14

In Chicago, a large amount of the university's work on radioactivity was going on in the chemistry department, which was in fact better equipped for such investigation than the physicists were (a fact that naturally didn't stop the physicists looking down on the chemists). - p16

The name 'cyclo
May 28, 2011 Beeb3 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Beeb3 by: Betsy
Shelves: chosen
The cycle of photosynthesis is the cycle of life, says science journalist Morton (Mapping Mars). Green leaves trap sunlight and use it to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and emit life-giving oxygen in its place. Indeed, plants likely created Earth's life-friendly oxygen- and nitrogen-rich biosphere. In the first part, Morton, chief news and features editor of the leading science journal, Nature, traces scientists' quest to understand how photosynthesis works at the molecular level. In part tw ...more
Jan 11, 2009 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, unfinished
This was not a light read for me...uh, sorry, no pun intended. I spent all Christmas break working though it and still had to return it to the library half-finished. The author is an editor for Nature, I believe, and seemed to have more of an insider perspective than the everyday science writer. Generally, quite poetic passages sandwiching in technical explanations of the discovery and implications of photosynthesis. Like many science books (Short History of Nearly Everything, Ocean of Air), a g ...more
Jenny Brown
This is an important and frustrating book. The topic is of immense interest, but Morton simply isn't able to explain in in a way that makes sense to someone who doesn't already understand many of the things he understands but doesn't get around to explaining.

I made my way through Nick Lane's books on oxygen and mitochondria and came away feeling like I had learned a great deal. The science discussed here is similar, but I found myself baffled at every turn, and found especially annoying the many
Sep 05, 2013 Elvira is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
When i studied botany there existed only two pathways of photosynthesis. Now i have some catching up to do.
I am thoroughly enjoying reading about the human stories that accompanied the discoveries of photosynthetic pathways. Learning about the scientists, their joys, frustrations, doubts, and fears makes the world of discovery come alive. It makes my career in research and academia seem trivial compared to most of these people. Yet, I can also empathize with many of the hurdles and frustrations
Ken Bolton
Sep 11, 2015 Ken Bolton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I won't say that this book is written for ChemEs, but there is a fair bit of discussion on chemical reactions, Redox potentials, and thermodynamics. With that said, the story is perfectly understandable by the layperson and the explanation/information about geochemical/biological/etc cycles was super cool.
Cecilie Hjort
Feb 13, 2014 Cecilie Hjort rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
In honesty, I haven't read the whole book. I got to page 24 and then quickly skimmed the rest. The writing style is very people-centric, providing its information about physics, chemistry, and biology through the prism of specific scientists' career trajectories and daily lives at the lab. And I just find a format like that intolerably tedious and scatterbrained. If you like that particular writing style, though, I'm sure it's very informative.
Aug 12, 2014 Matthew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There's a balance in science writing between talking about the science, and talking about the people doing science, and Eating The Sun does a rather poor job handling them both. Talking about the history of a whole discipline necessarily requires a lot of scientists, and they all gradually bleed together after a while. The author also spends pages and pages talking about the Gaian theory, which is an unnecessary hypothesis at best, and pseudoscience at worst. Photosynthesis is a complicated subj ...more
James Howard
This is an interesting book which covers an extremely relevant and important topic - the environment and our attitude towards it. It describes photosynthesis in a way that most of us have probably never thought of it. I didn't read the book in one sitting, and have still not finished it. Where the book fails for me is it covers both the science, and the history of the science and the people behind it. It's a little much to take in all at once if you're not well versed with the subjects at hand. ...more
Jun 02, 2014 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great history into how physicists were ultimately the ones who figured out the photosynthesis puzzle
Apr 12, 2016 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is science writing at its best. This book lives by my bed.
Jul 17, 2009 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book deepened my appreciation and awe of plants and of the interconnections within Earth's climate system. That humans are only beginning to understand these connections and how they relate to each other, makes a book like this even more important to be widely read. Although the description and history of how photosynthesis "works" and varies was a bit dense ultimately it was fascinating. I thought this author did a great job of making cutting edge science and future visions of rene ...more
Dec 16, 2014 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is what GCSE Biology *should* teach
Martin Oetiker
Jan 18, 2014 Martin Oetiker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent, mind expanding book, in parts lyrical, at other times dense and heavy going. But a great achievement nonetheless, combining science, history & nature in a great synthesis of life and the history of life on planet Earth.
Stick with it - it is well worth the time and effort, not just for the knowledge it contains, but also for the well-written introductions to each topic, the human touches and the overall message.
May 24, 2010 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Don't let the 1st few chapters deter you from getting to the big picture parts(parts 2+3). It's a scince book for lay folks and allows one to discover and really understands the intricate and delicate balance of the planet. What we know and what we don't know about our planet as either a self regulating being or a series of predictable quantative events is staggering! I have never had to put a book down because of the sheer overwhelmingness of understanding. I would love to know if anyone else e ...more
I am finally admitting defeat on this book, which is a pity. The library says I have to give it back. My reading of the book was interrupted by a move and a subsequent new library card, which necessitated a long break and then a reread.

This book is fascinating. It is dense with scientific information presented in a clear and easily understood manner. If you like science at all, I think this is a book to enjoy.
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