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The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus [Hardcover]

Mark Anderson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 May 2012 0306820382 978-0306820380
On June 3, 1769, the planet Venus briefly passed across the face of the sun in a cosmic alignment that occurs twice per century. Anticipation of the rare celestial event sparked a worldwide competition among aspiring global superpowers, each sending their own scientific expeditions to far-flung destinations to time the planet's trek. These pioneers used the "Venus Transit" to discover the physical dimensions of the solar system and refine the methods of discovering longitude at sea. In this fast-paced narrative, Mark Anderson reveals the stories of three Venus Transit voyages--to the heart of the Arctic, the New World, and the Pacific-that risked every mortal peril of a candlelit age. With time running out, each expedition struggles to reach its destination--a quest that races to an unforgettable climax on a momentous summer day when the universe suddenly became much larger than anyone had dared to imagine. The Day the World Discovered the Sun tells an epic story of the enduring human desire to understand our place in the universe.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press Inc (8 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306820382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306820380
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 850,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Publishers Weekly, 3/19/12 "In this exciting tale-part detective story, part history of science-Anderson ("Shakespeare" by Another Name) vividly recreates the torturous explorations and enthralling discovery of three peripatetic and insatiably curious explorers." Kirkus Reviews, 4/15/12 "A scientific adventure tale in which astronomers risk their lives, traveling the high seas in winter, trekking over ice-bound Siberia and facing deadly diseases...A lively, fitting tribute to 'mankind's first international 'big science' project.'" Northampton Valley Advocate, 3/29/12 "Anderson's prose [is] gleaming with a stout and convincing imagining of the past...An adventure tale that brings to life knowledge that is a touch esoteric, yet was at the center of vital, practical pursuits of the 18th century." Roanoke Times, 4/8 "An armchair travel adventure." AstroGuyz.com, 4/20/12 "I can think of no finer reading companion to warm you up for [the transit of Venus] than this week's review, The Day the World Discovered the Sun...This book reads like a fine historical adventure novel...The book doesn't back away from the 'good stuff' that astronomical history buffs yearn for...A table is included for the mathematically curious, and tales of astronomical intrigue abound." Booklist, 5/15/12 "A fine combination of popular science and real-life adventure that will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers." Discover, June 2012 "[An] intense account of efforts to measure the rare celestial event." New Scientist, May 2012"Truly excellent...Anderson writes as if the reader is on the very shoulders of the adventurers as they sledge across the icy wastes of Siberia or sail across uncharted oceans...communicat[ing] the verve and energy-not to mention the perilous nature-of the expeditions." Daily Hampshire Gazette, 5/11/12"A rollicking tale of 18th-century scientific exploration and adventure." Nature, 5/17/12 "[An] excellent account...Arresting...Anderson serves up a rich broth of details." AND Online Magazine, 5/26/12"All three expeditions are compelling, with riveting accounts of the voyages to the far-flung points of observation, and a fast-paced narrative that has you on the edge of your seat, rooting for each of the teams of astronomers to be able to have the opportunity to actually see the transit of Venus on June 3, 1769 without the threat of clouds, broken equipment, dangerous weather, angry natives, or debilitating illness. Anderson weaves the three stories together seamlessly and The Day the World Discovered the Sun is a book about scientific advancement and adventure that is somehow able to avoid being bogged down with the complexities of science." Macleans.ca, 5/28/12"It's a heck of a yarn-a sort of real-life literal Star Trek from the era of tall ships, terra incognita, and scientific Enlightenment." Library Journal, 6/1/12"Recommended for casual students of history and astronomy." Popular Science Online, 6/5/12"From the beginning, you are alongside the famous explorers...Anderson draws on his background in physics as well as a career writing about Elizabethan England to tell the story." National Geographic Online, 6/5/12"A clever and very entertaining book...an adventure tale, a story of human 'drive and endurance' with voyages to the poles and everywhere in between to unlock a scientific mystery." Desert News, 6/2/12"Reads like a mystery. Anderson describes various astronomical puzzles that each explorer has to piece together in order to form the larger picture...A book that pays tribute to men who are not mentioned in textbooks. It is a book for all people, not just those who are interested in astronomy." Technology & Society Book Review, 6/4/12"Both an adventure tale and a look back into the history of science." Winnipeg Free Press, 6/2/12"A worthwhile read for anyone with compatible interests." Concord Monitor, 6/10/12"Anderson explores the personalities and politics behind the transit observation expeditions, melding history and science in a fascinating story of the first large-scale international scientific effort...Anderson makes each expedition come alive; the challenges and detours, hopes and hubris... Whether you like science or political intrigue, space or human nature, or simply want to marvel at these men's accomplishments, Anderson delivers." Internet Review of Books, 6/15/12"A wonderful retelling of several intrepid expeditions to the corners of earth in search of a higher human aspiration-scientific truth." Midwest Book Review, August 2012"A fine guide for any interested in astronomy's link to mankind's development." Portland Book Review, 6/14/12 "It is rare that a history book can be described as genuinely suspenseful. Anderson's narrative is exciting; his description of three different expeditions reads like an adventure novel." Choice, November 2012"Highly recommended." ReadersLane.com, 1/17/13"An entertaining read for anyone interested in astronomy or the history of science."

About the Author

Mark Anderson is the author of "Shakespeare" By Another Name and has covered science, history, and technology for many media outlets, including Discover and National Public Radio. He holds a BA in physics, an MS in astrophysics, and lives in western Massachusetts.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and rewarding 23 May 2012
Format:Hardcover
This book on the hair-raising scientific expeditions of the 1760s is a rich and rewarding adventure from start to finish. It's exciting history that was galvanized by some of the most important scientific and political imperatives of the 18th and early 19th centuries: finding life-savingly accurate means of longitudinal maritime navigation; exploring the mysterious South Pacific and beyond; and determining the precise distance from the earth to the Sun, the most critical astronomical unit of measure. All of these and more prompted the cause célèbre of the age: far-flung measurements of the extremely rare transit of Venus, which occurred in 1769.

This book doesn't feel like "science" though, although those factors are well explained. On the contrary, we have mad kings, exotic natives, scary epidemics, erudite Jesuits, stubborn viceroys, squabbling astronomers, wide-eyed naturalists, leonine monarchs, curious common-folk, dedicated scientists, international political intrigue, wild overland journeys, and the gamut of seagoing excitement, for starters.

The various locales journeyed to give us a breathtaking "you are there" window into 18th-century Vienna, St. Petersburg, Mexico, Baja California, Siberia, Paris, arctic-circle Norway, South Pacific islands, London, Barbados, Cape Town, Tierra del Fuego, Copenhagen, Jakarta, Cadiz, Rio de Janeiro, and places in between. The point of the Venus transit was to get readings from many locations, as mutually distant as possible, in order to triangulate a reliable distance to the Sun. And getting to these locations is half the adventure, but certainly not all of it. Greater challenges meet each adventurer upon arrival at their destination.
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Format:Hardcover
Stories like these reinforce the adage that truth can be stranger than fiction. It feels like you are back in time when you read these kinds of stories. You have to imagine a time before technology made us take for granted basic tidbits of knowledge. The only complaint I have for this story is that it didn't delve deeply enough into the mathematics of the topic, and what was provided was not explained as well as the historical background of the story was explained. All-in-all, the book is excellent. Never heard this story before, though it seems like I should have.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and rewarding 23 May 2012
By Aanel Victoria - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book on the hair-raising scientific expeditions of the 1760s is a rich and rewarding adventure from start to finish. It's exciting history that was galvanized by some of the most important scientific and political imperatives of the 18th and early 19th centuries: finding life-savingly accurate means of longitudinal maritime navigation; exploring the mysterious South Pacific and beyond; and determining the precise distance from the earth to the Sun, the most critical and fundamental astronomical unit of measure. All of these and more prompted the cause célèbre of the age: far-flung measurements of the extremely rare transit of Venus, which occurred in 1769.

This book doesn't feel like "science" though, although those factors are well explained. On the contrary, we have mad kings, exotic natives, scary epidemics, erudite Jesuits, stubborn viceroys, squabbling astronomers, wide-eyed naturalists, leonine monarchs, curious common-folk, dedicated scientists, international political intrigue, wild overland journeys, and the gamut of seagoing excitement, for starters.

The various locales journeyed to give us a breathtaking "you are there" window into 18th-century Vienna, St. Petersburg, Mexico, Baja California, Siberia, Paris, arctic-circle Norway, South Pacific islands, London, Barbados, Cape Town, Tierra del Fuego, Copenhagen, Jakarta, Cadiz, Rio de Janeiro, and places in between. The point of the Venus transit was to get readings from many locations, as mutually distant as possible, in order to triangulate a reliable distance to the Sun. And getting to these locations is half the adventure, but certainly not all of it. Greater challenges meet each adventurer upon arrival at their destination.

The intriguing characters we follow include, among others: the renowned Captain Cook; the "French Benjamin Franklin"; two latterly famous fellows named Mason and Dixon; the aforementioned diligent erudite Hungarian Jesuit; and all of their partners, assistants, and travelling companions.

In the cleverly organized narrative that weaves several strands together at once, there are moments of cliff-hanging suspense in each of these journeys halfway across the world. And there are also many aha! moments for the reader: remarkable historical revelations, recognition of familiar historical names, and moments where something clicks -- either historical, or technical, or even a distant fact learned decades ago -- and makes brilliant sense. It's this living quality to the narrative that makes it memorable and inviting.

The book is a rich, full, thick tapestry of colorful and very real and tangible true-life adventure. I thought it was only going to be about adventurous discovery, but it's so much more -- it's the very human story of characters you immediately care about, come to know deeply, and think about long afterwards.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History comes alive 18 May 2012
By Sauropod - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, and I wrote a mini-review, which I'll repost below. Bottom line - it's a great read; you'll learn a lot and have fun doing it!

Who knew that the 18th century's race to observe the transit of Venus across the sun could be the stuff of a pageturner? In Mark Anderson's expert hands, the international adventure comes vividly alive as we follow the redoubtable Captain Cook, the philosophical astronomer Chappe d'Auteroche, the pioneering surveyors Mason and Dixon, the Jesuit priest Maximilian Hell, and other luminaries who brave the icy depths of Siberia and navigate uncharted tropical seas in search of the ideal observation post for this all-important astronomical event. THE DAY THE WORLD DISCOVERED THE SUN is a thrilling and poignant tribute to those who risked all--and in some cases gave all--to advance the cause of knowledge.

- Michael Prescott, fiction writer
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Travel Adventure from the time when Scientists were kings 17 May 2012
By ObsessiveReader_1279 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book details the race to the ends of the earth to catch a glimpse of the Venus transit, which occurs only twice every 150 years. It was posited by Edmund Halley that by using this transit it would be possible to calculate the distance between the Earth and Sun to a 98% certainty AND HE WAS RIGHT!

Be sure to read this book if you love adventure, science and astronomy! THE DAY THE WORLD DISCOVERED THE SUN has it all in one amazing read!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read! 19 Aug 2012
By England - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not only was the subject matter interesting and adventurous, but Anderson's writing is appropriately humerous making the experience a lot of fun. My only complaint is that I would have preferred each expedtion's story to be told in full then the next story etc., rather than jumping from story to story to keep the stories in synch in terms of the time sequence. Maybe it wouldn't matter in the printed book b/c you can easily jump back to remind yourself of who was who, but in the kindle I found it hard to jump back and forth as needed to remember the details of that particular expedition. All in all I loved it though, and the epiloge is great too.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book! 12 July 2012
By binthere - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I absolutely loved this book! It's well written and a pleasurable read. What would seemingly be a dry topic is presented in such a way as to make it exciting! I'm on a bit of a history binge right now so I am particulary enamoured by these kinds of books. I learned alot as well - I never really thought about or understood the significance of solar or lunar events and now realize their immense value to early astronomers in understanding our place in the solar system. I only wish I had read it before the recent transit of Venue this spring so I would have been more in awe. Great book.
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