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Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet Paperback – 6 Aug 2009
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‘A fascinating and important book.’ Ian McEwan
'Morton is as compelling and eloquent in describing the evolution of landscape as he is at describing the evolution of life itself. This book will, quite literally, change the way you see the world.' 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.' Jon Turney, Independent
'An informative, fascinating and thought-provoking read.' Sunday Times
'A fascinating read.' Independent
'When you are done with this book you will see the world differently and understand it better. Going directly to the most important question of our time – the origin of the carbon/climate crisis – and delving deeply into it, “Eating the Sun” transcends science writing as we usually think of it.’ Kim Stanley Robinson
'"Eating the Sun" could not be more timely, and firmly establishes Oliver Morton as one of the world's finest science writers.' Steven Shapin
'Eating the Sun' is the story of the discovery of a miracle: the source of life itself. From the intricacies of its molecular processes to the beauty of the nature that it supports, 'Eating the Sun' is a wondering tribute to the extraordinary process that has allowed plants to power the earth for billions of years. 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 nature green -- 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 every breath we take. '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. See all Product description
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What I found was a very good, but variable read. My main criticism was that this book took 141 pages to set the scene in it's historical context before even starting on the main course. This is too long!
However, the remaining two thirds are a shining example of popular science writing at it's best. Morton has a really good sense of what makes an interesting statistic - he has spent time to justify his facts with the figures. I found most of the subject matter to be very original.
The pace of the narrative progressively quickens, along with the salient details. By the final chapter on global energy, Morton has reached a sprint. One wonders if he realised he was exceeding his word count after the first section, then cut to the chase - making the majority of this book a gripping read.
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.
Back to the book. I'm an animal physiologist and immunobiologist so plants are not my area of expertise - and that is precisely why I wanted to read this book. Actually, what brought me to it was a mention in Dawkings' "The Greatest Show on Earth". Upon finishing Dawkings I immediately ordered Morton and I'm enjoying every page of it. Sure, there's a lot of history and anecdotes but they are fun to read, quite informative also. Nevertheless, Morton writes about plants and plant physiology as a poet would. It's a fine read for anyone even remotely interested in plants and photosynthesis but you do need some general knowledge of biology, preferably cell biology. Nothing much, just enough to know that mitochondria is not a side dish but an organelle, that's it :) You could probably enjoy the book even if you never opened a biology textbook but I suppose it would be somewhat difficult to grasp the more challenging concepts.
For me, the biggest thrill was to "meet" all the "persons" in cell physiology. For example, Calvin's cycle etc. Those people were real (yeah, I know, big revelation) and it was nice to learn a little about them.
All in all, "Eating the Sun" is an elegant ode to the relentless, evergoing, relatively simple process that drives the life on Earth as we know it.
This seemed to correspond with some of the more philosophical discussions I have with my dad. We both think the sun is just amazing and the source of everything on earth.
So it was great to get a book that follows that theme and puts it all more eloquently than I could,
Fascinating read. It'll wither confirm your thoughts or open your eyes to how great the sun is.
ACID TEST: would I buy it again - YES