In some ancient cultures, the Sun was one of the central deities, if not the deity: I'm thinking of the Incas and the ancient Egyptians, for starters. After reading Bob Berman's The Sun's Heartbeat, you get a sense that they might have been on to something. Berman collects many facts from many angles about the Sun, mostly about how it makes all good things possible on Earth--and a few bad ones, too.
Let's start with a Sun-related factoid: not just the planet we're on, but everything we are made of, is the result of stars bursting and spilling forth through the universe, until those random wandering atoms collected together enough of their kind to form a gravitational pull, and thus gather more of their floating brethren, eventually making the planet Earth and all the atoms on it, including you and me. (Which brings up another question, the really hard question, of how material can be conscious of itself; but that's for another review, of Soul Dust by Nicholas Humphrey.)
Berman marches through science history, as humans slowly doped out what the Sun is made of and what it does. It was often the story of people ahead of their time, mocked for their wacky beliefs, which turned out to be much closer to the truth than that which came before. Berman details, for instance, Edward Walter Maunder, and his wife, Annie, who kept decades of lonely vigils for sunspots, and proposed the solar origin of terrestrial magnetic disturbances, spot on in their conjectures.
As the chapters whiz by, more and more bewitching information flows our way, like the magnetic particles that make up the solar wind that smothers our outer atmosphere and occasionally leads to the spectral display of auroras. He makes the case for tossing some of your savings away to be able to experience a total eclipse; I'd read of others' obsessions about total eclipses, but only Berman convinced me it would be worth the trouble. Likewise, for a summation of global warming--more accurately, anthropogenic climate forcing--Berman provides the clearest account I've ever read, showing how the Sun's variability in output of solar energy plays an important role in global warming and global cooling, but not enough to explain the changes causing the warming of our northern winter nights. The key point is that Berman can untwist the factors he cites in global warming, unraveling the different causes and effects.
Not all is up to those standards: his chapter on the positive health implications of the Sun--all that vitamin D our skin makes thanks to UV rays, mostly in the summer for us folks in northern latitudes--is strong on rosy optimism, and weak on facts. He pooh-poohs a National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine meta-study that was cautious about claims for the efficacy of vitamin D in cancer fighting, mainly on the grounds that it didn't say what he wanted it to say. He also trumpets a doctor who claims that the rise in autism is due to lack of vitamin D, without much more than coincidence to back the claim.
And yes, Berman is in love with his own sometimes goofy sense of humor. At one point, I counted a wisecrack in every paragraph for several pages. It's something that could annoy some people, but I found it mostly either mildly amusing or innocuous. It keeps the book from being too dry--though he's such a good writer, he should realize that he really doesn't need use humor as a crutch, if that's what it is.
Overall, a very strong and enjoyable book. Would that more science writers knew how to make their material as compelling as this.