The Sun Kings

Eighteen months ago I went to the Royal Society’s awards evening to acknowledge the best popular science books. On the shortlist was The Sun Kings by Stuart Clark. He didn’t win, but Stuart was definitely the most fashionably dressed finalist present. We chatted for a while and he made his book sound absolutely  fascinating. I left resolving to read it straightaway, but one thing led to another and, only recently, did it reach the top of my (very long) reading list.

Sadly, nowadays I have very liittle time for casual reading – everything has a purpose. Happily, DAMTP (the famous Department of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge where Stephen Hawking is based and where I occasionally went as an undergraduate) hosts a brilliant online popular maths magazine called +Plus. It’s full of zillions (to use a very mathematical number) of interesting articles, one of which is now written by me. When they wanted me to write a book review for them, I remembered my conversation with Stuart and asked if I could stretch the definition of mathematics just a little to include The Sun Kings.

The story is set around a giant solar flare observed in 1859, telling how the science of astrophysics grew out of observational astronomy. In today’s world where everything seems to be so short-term or temporary, it’s incredible to read of people making observations for decades and then their data being passed on to those who came after them to add to and make sense of.

It’s important because our island Earth isn’t as isolated as we might think – the Sun has a major influence on what happens here. Our home star goes through an eleven year cycle of magnetic activity that is currently building towards a maximum (between 2011 and 2013). On the downside, satellites are likely to be damaged and our mobile phones might stop working some of the time. On the plus front, there should be more beautiful auroras, like in the banner at the top of this blog.

With Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze not coming out until January, it’s well worth putting The Sun Kings on your Christmas list and taking a look at +Plus, to give you a picture of just how interesting maths can really be.

~ by keithmansfield on December 6, 2009.

One Response to “The Sun Kings”

  1. […] Clark, author of The Sun Kings, has just published a new book in the Quercus Big Questions series called “The Universe”. Last […]

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