When Richard Cohen was working as a publisher – he was once publishing director of both Hutchinson and Hodder & Stoughton – he asked every non-fiction author crossing his path to consider writing a book about the sun. They all said no. A slim science book about how and when the sun was formed and how it radiates heat might have interested someone; a short history of sun worship could have been fun; a brief survey showing how the sun has been represented in literature and art might also have found a curious readership; but Cohen wanted more, and the daunting prospect of sitting down to write a 600-page all-encompassing cosmological, cultural, aesthetic, scientific, philosophical and literary biography of the sun was bound to make even the sturdiest trencherman of an author quail. As with the Remington shavers man who liked the product so much he bought the factory, Cohen became so determined that this book should be written that he wrote it himself.
The result is a formidable catalogue of pretty much everything there is to be thought or said about the sun. We learn, for instance, how the Chaldeans divided the heavens into zones and in so doing inadvertently identified the path of Earth’s elliptic journey round the sun; we