Friday, May 25, 2012


The journal Nature has just released a wonderful review of Mark Anderson's THE DAY THE WORLD DISCOVERED THE SUN.  Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and the History of Science at Harvard University, reviewed the book as part of a two-page feature.  You can find the article on Nature's website here, but we've also included an excerpt below:

Journalist Mark Anderson's arresting THE DAY THE WORLD DISCOVERED THE SUN begins with the 1761 transit, but concentrates on the three most significant journeys of the 1769 event.  These were Captain James Cook's voyage to Tahiti; the Hungarian Jesuit Maximilian Hell's frigid journey to Vardo, above the Arctic Circle in Norway; and French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteroche's sweaty and insect-ridden expedition to San Jose del Cabo in Baja California, present-day Mexico. 
Anderson serves up a rich broth of details--such as that British sailors did not have soap in their rations until the 1780s, or that Cook's small ship Endeavour had more than 90 people on board, in part because it was expected that half the crew on a round-the-world trip would die of scurvy.  (In the event, Cook engaged in a medical experiment with a diet of sauerkraut for the crew, and not a single sailor was lost to the condition.) 
Both Wulf [author of CHASING VENUS] and Anderson give much attention to Chappe, the only observer to time the entrance and exit of Venus on both transits.  Chappe wrote vivid and extensive travel notes...His wide-ranging interests would have made him, thinks Anderson, the French Benjamin Franklin.

Anderson was also recently interviewed by the radio magazine Viewpoints.  You can listen to the full interview by following this link and navigating to the May 20th podcast entitled "The Transit of Venus: What It Is and Why It's Still Important."

Nature and Viewpoints both call attention to the intriguing details Anderson includes in his narrative, particularly the medical experiment Cook conducted on scurvy during his voyage.  However, Viewpoints goes a step further by highlighting how Cook's scurvy-and-sauerkraut experiment unwittingly spurred the invention of carbonated water and thus the $370 billion soft drink industry.

The diet Cook imposed upon his men, heavy in sauerkraut and vegetables, precluded scurvy from affecting a single sailor on board his ship.  A chemist named Joseph Priestly noticed that the diet also had the curious effect of causing Cook's men to belch far more often than normal.  Priestly postulated that, perhaps, it was the act of belching itself that cured scurvy.  He invented a way to carbonate water and thus compel the drinkers of his new beverage to belch. 

Unfortunately for Priestly, belching was not in fact the cure for scurvy; we know, today, that scurvy is caused by a vitamin deficiency that a diet of sauerkraut and fresh vegetables can help prevent.  Yet Priestly's invention did allow the soft drink industry to become "an unlikely distant cousin to the Venus transit missions," in the words of Anderson in THE DAY THE WORLD DISCOVERED THE SUN.

You can read more about Anderson and his book through previous posts on our blog here, through Anderson's Tumblr page here, and through his Facebook page here.

Da Capo Press, May 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment