books religion

Eating the Sun, by Oliver Morton

I started reading Oliver Morton’s book Eating the Sun last week, and something rather unusual happened. I got halfway through the first page, and a line stopped me in my tracks. Morton describes dawn on planet earth, not from our point of view, but from the point of view of plantlife. So the sun comes up over the Pacific somewhere, strikes the land, and the greenery. “When the light shone on the greenness, the greenness welcomed it, and comprehended it, and put it to use.”

For whatever reason, that line just struck me with wonder. I put the book away and spent the next half hour just staring out the train window, marvelling at photosynthesis. It happened again a few pages later, as Morton talked about history in the lifespan of a tree. That sense of wonder was probably Morton’s intention. “Once grasped, it can be seen anywhere” he writes of how plants power the world. “walking over open meadows, or cutting basil in a window box, or putting a log on a fire, or lying beneath a tree in a park, you can see the whole wonderful chain.”

Eating the Sun book is an epic exploration of the work of chlorophyll, and the interaction between carbon dioxide producing animals and oxygen producing plants. It is rambling and enthusiatic, detailed and scientifically rigorous. But as I read on through the account of Joseph Priestly’s experiments with heavy air (which inspired yesterday’s post), I did find myself wondering if I really had time to read a 400 page book about photosynthesis. Especially one where the author can take a ten page detour to sit under a tree. Sadly, I concluded that I did not. Or at least not all at once.

So Eating the Sun is back on the shelf, and this is a recommendation more than a review. Morton’s is a fascinating and poetic book about one of life’s most basic processes, an everyday miracle beautifully described. But it is science as chocolate –best enjoyed one square at a time.


  1. Nice review, or recommendation. I would, however, caution against leaving too long a delay between nibbles. Much of the book depends on what went before, and if you delay too long, you’re likely to forget important stuff.

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