Format Hardcover
Publication Date 03/07/17
ISBN 9781681773308
Trim Size / Pages 9.3 x 6.3 in / 304

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Mask of the Sun

The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses

John Dvorak

They have been thought of as harbingers of evil as well as a sign of the divine. Eclipses—one of the rarest and most stunning celestial events we can witness here on Earth—have shaped the course of human history and thought since humans first turned their eyes to the sky.

What do Virginia Woolf, the rotation of hurricanes, Babylonian kings and Einstein’s General Theory Relativity all have in common? Eclipses. Always spectacular and, today, precisely predicable, eclipses have allowed us to know when the first Olympic games were played and, long before the first space probe, that the Moon was covered by dust. Eclipses have stunned, frightened, emboldened and mesmerized people for thousands of years. They were recorded on ancient turtle shells discovered in the Wastes of Yin in China, on clay tablets from Mesopotamia and on the Mayan “Dresden Codex." They are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and at least eight times in the Bible. Columbus used them to trick people, while Renaissance painter Taddeo Gaddi was blinded by one. Sorcery was banished within the Catholic Church after astrologers used an eclipse to predict a pope’s death. In Mask of the Sun, acclaimed writer John Dvorak the importance of the number 177 and why the ancient Romans thought it was bad to have sexual intercourse during an eclipse (whereas other cultures thought it would be good luck). Even today, pregnant women in Mexico wear safety pins on their underwear during an eclipse. Eclipses are an amazing phenomena—unique to Earth—that have provided the key to much of what we now know and understand about the sun, our moon, gravity, and the workings of the universe. Both entertaining and authoritative, Mask of the Sun reveals the humanism behind the science of both lunar and solar eclipses. With insightful detail and vividly accessible prose, Dvorak provides explanations as to how and why eclipses occur—as well as insight into the forthcoming eclipse of 2017 that will be visible across North America.

Dr. John Dvorak, PhD, worked on volcanoes and earthquakes for the U.S. Geological Survey, first at Mount St. Helens, then as a series of assignments in California, Hawaii, Italy, Indonesia, Central America and Alaska. He has written cover stories for Scientific American, Physics Today and Astronomy magazines, as well as a series of essays about earthquakes and volcanoes for American Scientist. Dvorak has taught at the University of Hawaii and lectured at UCLA, Washington University in St. Louis, the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, among others

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Endorsements & Reviews

“This book provides an excellent overview of how eclipses work and how people have interpreted them through time. Dvorak explains complex scientific ideas succinctly and clearly without resorting to formula or jargon. Furthermore, he does an excellent job of conveying the wonder of eclipses, describing both their historical-cultural value and the inspirational effect they have on people. A splendid introduction to all aspects of eclipses; for all readers interested in science. ” Library Journal (starred)
“Dvorak is a great storyteller with a keen eye for details. His descriptions of the intense heat almost singe the page. Riveting.” The Wall Street Journal [praise for John Dvorak]
“Unarguably the best, the most comprehensive, and compellingly readable book about the great fault that will one day affect all our lives.                 ” Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author [praise for John Dvorak]
“Inspiring.” Scientific American [praise for John Dvorak]