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Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet [Hardcover]

Oliver Morton
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Aug 2007

‘Eating the Sun’ is the story of the discovery of a miracle: the source of life itself. This book explains how biologists discovered photosynthesis and through it found a new understanding of the history of our planet and how life is inconceivable without it.

Photosynthesis is the most mundane of miracles. It surrounds us in our gardens and parks and countryside; even our cityscapes are shot through with trees. It makes the sky blue and nature green. That greenery is the signature of the pigments with which plants harvest the sun; wherever nature offers us greenery, the molecular machinery of photosynthesis is making oxygen, energy and organic matter from the raw material of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

We rarely give the green machinery that brings about this transformation much thought, and few of us understand its beautifully honed mechanisms. But we are dimly aware that those photosynthetic mechanisms are the basis of our lives twice over: the ultimate source of all our food and the ultimate source of all our breaths. ‘Eating the Sun’ will foster and enrich that awareness. And by connecting aspects of photosynthesis that are vital to our lives to the crucial role its molecular mechanisms have played through more than two billion years of the earth's history, ‘Eating the Sun’ will change the way the reader sees the world.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (20 Aug 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000717179X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007171798
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.2 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 932,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'A surprisingly fascinating read.' The Independent

'I enjoyed this book as much for the crazed asides as for the upsetting insights…an informative, fascinating and thought–provoking read.' Sunday Times

'Morton is as compelling and eloquent in describing the evolution of landscape as he is at describing the evolution of life itself. He moves easily from explaining cosmological theories to describing the chalky meadows around Lewes. Photosynthesis is, as Morton eloquently describes it, 'an everyday miracle, needing nothing but sunlight, air and leaves - and eyes taught to make sense of them.' This book will, quite literally, change the way you see the world as it teaches you to understand the importance of that everyday miracle that we all depend on.' The Sunday Telegraph

'Photosynthesis is, as Morton eloquently describes it, 'an everyday miracle, needing nothing but sunlight, air and leaves – and eyes taught to make sense of them'. This book will, quite literally, change the way you see the world as it teaches you to understand the importance of that everyday miracle that we all depend on.' Sunday Telegraph

'Everything you could possibly want from a popular science book. There is wonder here, and intellectual excitement; clear explanation and lyrical writing; and much new insight into how the world works, linking the very small and very large.' The Independent

Praise for ‘Mapping Mars’:

‘A wonderful work of intellectual history and a permanent addition to the Mars bookshelf.’ Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the ‘Red Mars’ trilogy and ‘The Years of Rice and Salt’

More praise for ‘Mapping Mars’:

‘Splendid…the best factual book on Mars that money can buy.' New Scientist

'A remarkable book…to read this book is to become infected with a fascinating which I hadn't realised Mars held.' James Hamilton-Patersons, London Review of Books

'A beautifully intelligent meditation on place, and on the paradoxes of place that apply to a place like Mars…it will be around for a long time to come.' Francis Spufford, Evening Standard

About the Author

Oliver Morton is a science writer and journalist. He has written extensively for New Scientist, Nature and a range of National broadsheets.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best popular science book for 20 years. 9 Sep 2008
This is the best science book I've read for 20 years, comparable in scope to "The Making of the Atomic Bomb' by Richard Rhodes. It tackles a fascinating, low-profile field, the molecular machinery of photosynthesis, and the history of its elucidation, and then traces all the tangents and implications of that knowledge: the evolution of photosynthesis and its impact on the earth's atmosphere; the co-evolution of plants and animals; the requirements and nature of life on other planets and in other solar systems; the complexity of the carbon-cycle and its interactions with the nitrogen cycle, temperature, volcanism, the weathering of mountains, ice ages, ice-caps, prairies, forests. When at last he arrives at the current carbon/climate crisis you feel really equipped to comprehend the scale of the changes going on and weigh up the merits of all the different energy sources that have been proposed as solutions to the crisis and to the end of fossil fuels. All this territory could be either incredibly dry and dull (I could never stay awake in lectures about plants when I was doing a degree in biology) or sensationalist in its prediction of future catastrophe. But Morton manages to make even the science of electron transport chains fascinating and indeed lyrical, and his take on the environmental situation is sober, compelling and not without hope. Should be required reading for everyone on the planet. At the very least everyone taking a degree in biological sciences.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a big book. A good couple of weeks' worth of holiday reading. Some chapters contain more actual science than my MA degree course in botany did, but you're not going to be examined on it so you don't need to commit to memory. You can still read through without picking up and remembering all the details.

It is a unique and fundamental primer of the earth, its history and where we fit into the picture, the most entertaining and unputdownable that I have ever read. With huge implications for technology in the future, I challenge sixth form students to read this book and not want to be part of the new plant science revolution. Biology now joins physics as exciting atomic-level science; the only science that will feed the world.

Yes, there is the odd mistake not discovered by editors (the Kew botanist J Hooker is Joseph, not John.) And I got very cross with his teleology - he implies that human progress needed the change from hunter gatherer to cereal eater. He doesn't discuss the downside of this, the move to enslaving and 'farming' people for tax and labour inside villages, and depriving them of the old right to find free food or land to raise food. But it's an interesting point this, that without carbon dioxide levels rising in the old stone age from their low levels 18000 years ago, grasses like wheat and rice would not yield enough to be worth growing and eating.

Give this book to every young person as a bluffer's guide to the earth and everything on it; and as a brilliant introduction to science, to conservation, to the possible futures of your life. It's a very readable, enthralling account of life and everything.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Eating the Sun' by Oliver Morton is Delicious 4 Oct 2009
Strongly recommend this book. It is as delicious as its title suggests. All right, there's lots of quite heavy technical stuff explaining the minutiae of photosynthesis, but the beautiful writing draws you in and it seems quite all right to skip about the book, as the author suggests. It is quite Gaian, which up to now has made me wary, being suspicious of New Age gibberish, but Morton's explanation of our global thermostat regulated by the balance of gases - carbon dioxide and oxygen in particular - and the part played by of our vegetation in particular is very persuasive. Also Morton has a warm positive tone, even optimistic rather then warning of any immanent apocalypse. Feels good.

' Asked about what plants did to their environment in the Devonian, Bob Spicer gives an answer that is, as he points out himself, very Gaian. Life changed the planet in such a way to make it more to life's liking.'
See what I mean.

As a Lewes guy, I particularly enjoyed his description of walking around our Downs.

This book is deserving of a full review, which is beyond my scope. Go on! Place your order, you won't regret it.

Will Edmonds
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This book describes the processes of photosynthesis in more detail than I have found in other popular science books. Great for anyone who wants to understand more about photosystems 1 and 2 and the way they are linked, to each other and to the wider world of life and the earth's biospehere.

I occassionally felt the text was presenting only part of the overall picture when the author addressed bigger picture topics such as climate change and future alternative energy sources. Perhaps a recognition that other processes have an influence would be also helpful. The book does have a good explanation of how photo-synthesis is really for low power generation and people shouldn't even think about it for directly powering anything other than stationary plants. The book has made me look more at information about hydrogen production for energy in the future through the splitting of water (although by photovoltaic means rather than photo-synthesis).

The book is also a little long, perhaps with danger of repeating itself in some areas. But overall it provides another valuable, readable and entertaining, description of one of life's most important processes and also helps the reader understand the narrow band of 'stability' in which we all live. Life in general can adapt to new environments but will take a very long time to do so. If the present climatic and sun-energy stability envelope in which we live is breached then life will go backwards before it goes forwards again. This book made me realise that only too well through its descriptions of how photo-systems in plants and algea have evolved to take energy from different wavelengths of light depending on the prevailing conditions.

I liked it and will probably re-read it at some stage as it is well written and informative.
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