A Journey Through the Extraordinary Wonders of an Ordinary Day
ISBN 9780143114413 | 320 pages | 25 Nov 2008 | Penguin | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 - AND UP
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It’s the oldest story on Earth. You relive it every day.Selected as one of NPR's Best Science Books of 2007
So much of our shared daily experience in the world is shaped by the sometimes dramatic, sometimes subtle effects of the Earth’s spin, its tilt on its axis, the alternation of light and darkness, the waxing and waning of the moon, the seemingly capricious growth of clouds. The ancient rhythm of the day and night was shaping life on Earth before there were even human beings to appreciate it. It rules our bodies and weather and calendars, and sets the tempo for our work and play. Each of us awakens each day to relive this primordial narrative.
With his signature blend of science and poetry, history and mythology, Michael Sims serves as tour guide on an unforgettable journey through the wonders of an ordinary day, from dawn to nighttime. Long before we had the tools of knowledge to explain what we observed in the skies overhead, we built mythologies and folklore around these occurrences, immortalized them in poetry and art, created special places for them in our collective imagination and even our language. In Apollo’s Fire, Sims explores the celestial events that form our days, fusing lively explanations of these phenomena with a richly layered history of what they meant to us before we knew how they worked. He explains the colors of sunrise, the characteristics of shadow, the mysteries of twilight. Characters in this vital drama include Galileo watching sunrise on the moon, Eratosthenes measuring the Earth with a noontime shadow, and Edgar Allan Poe figuring out why the night sky is dark instead of glowing with the light of a million suns. Our story ranges from the movie High Noon to Darwin’s plant experiments, from The Time Machine to the afternoon rise in air pollution.In the witty and elegant style that has earned him the designation “science raconteur,” Sims weaves a dazzling array of strands into a single tapestry of daily experience- and makes the oldest story on Earth new again.
“[Sims’s] weaving together of science and the more humane aspects of nature is what makes this book so interesting. . . . The sort of book . . . you’d keep at your side on a lazy summer day, dipping in occasionally as you undertake a leisurely contemplation of the world around you.”
—James Trefil, Washington Post Book World
"[Sims is] a lovely writer, a genuinely poetic writer. He does a great job of saying that what science teaches us about the sun influences everything, from the way we write poetry to the way we track our days, and what culture tells us that we should think about the sun again reflects on science; let's look at science in the context of how we live."
—Deborah Blum, on NPR’s SCIENCE FRIDAY, “Best Science Books of the Year”
“Sims’ enthusiasm is infectious….Charming. Those who look back fondly on those late-night undergraduate conversations that seem to encompass the whole world would do well to pick up Apollo’s Fire.”
-- The Tennessean
“Sims, a writer with a particular gift for explaining the natural world…[weaves] it all into a coherent whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts….His book offers readers a taste of…comfort, humility, and wonder.”
-- Nashville Scene
“A witty and erudite field guide to what he calls the ‘oldest story on Earth,’ the primordial cycle of the rising and setting sun… Sims’ writing is both engaging and knowledgeable… [A] delightful book that will make you think and, I hope, encourage you to go outside and consider the world around you.”
“Sims has a rare gift for showing the most taken-for-granted basics of human life as radical, mystical, and strange….His prose is so illuminating that science becomes poetry and poetry, science….Hypnotic and charming….This book is a magic carpet for the armchair traveler….Readers of Apollo’s Fire will suddenly experience today – this ordinary day, like any other – as grand and momentous.”
“Wordsworth had a nice line about our inescapable human fate: ‘Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course/ With rocks, and stones, and trees.’ It just keeps happening willy-nilly, whether we pay attention or not. If you want to see the world turn with fresh eyes—or better yet, if you want to register the progress of earth’s diurnal course with all your senses, acquire a copy of Michael Sims’ lyrical and learned Apollo’s Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination.”
—Adam Begley, New York Observer
"Apollo's Fire is a literary wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosity that collects snippets of Greek myth alongside images from High Noon and juxtaposes Japanese prints with the Muslim calendar. . . . [Sims is] a genial and exceedingly well-informed guide, able to talk comfortably about the difficulties inherent in building an accurate sundial, various remedies for jet lag, and the etymology of the word 'twilight.' . . . Sims has gone to great lengths in the effort to make us stop and pay attention—at least for one day."
-- Pittsburgh Magazine
“Another marvelous adventure uniting nature and human knowledge and imagination….Clear, focused, and accessible.”
“A magical mystery tour of seasons and starlight, rainbows and eclipses, circadian rhythms and jet leg, inner space and outer….A walk with an erudite entertaining docent through the most marvelous of museums.”
“[Sims has] a flair for giving reality the luster of myth…. His delightful tour of day and night skies will inspire many readers to look up with a marveling new perspective.”
-- Publishers Weekly
"With the brain of a scientist and the voice of a poet, Michael Sims makes the commonplace become truly miraculous. After this voyage through a day’s worth of scientific marvels and cultural curiosities, I’ll never look at shadows, stars, sunsets - or even airplane contrails - the same way again."
-- Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome
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