Review by John Daly-Peoples
The Sun Is a Star, A Voyage through the Universe
By Dick Frizzell with Samantha Lord
Massey University Press
Publication Date: October 7
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
It looks as though we will shortly be adding another name to the pantheon of the great cosmologists. The list comprising Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Hubble needs to now include the name of Dick Frizzell.
Having become a world authority on the history of art with his previous book “Me, According to the History of Art” the artist has now ventured into the world of cosmology with his “The Sun Is a Star, A Voyage through the Universe”.
The book as Frizzell says in the introduction “started out as a as a book for a seven-year-old, but I think I ended up writing it for a 77-yar old”.
In forty “chapters” of about 200 words each he gives a comprehensive survey of our knowledge about stars in general and ours in particular along with related topics such as the Big Bang Theory. He even manages to summarise the findings of Copernicus and Galileo in a few clever sentences. He also gets in a few facts about the immensity of the sun and the universe which make an impression, noting that while one could fly a plane around the Earth in two and half days it would take eight months to fly around the Sun.
It’s ingenious statements like that which make the book appealing, a thoroughly readable book and great introduction to cosmology for children. He has an easy-going style of engagement and is unfazed by complex notions. His explanations are simple and coherent, drawing various threads of science together, along with ventures into philosophical issues and the contemporary concern of climate change,
While he doesn’t go in for any myths of creations or gods, his elegant reasoning in response to his wonderment at the nature of the universe is occasionally undermined by his reference to magic and fairy dust.
To illustrate the book, he has called on many of his artist friends to provide images which relate to the sun so the book is full of some colourful paintings by several major artists including John Pule, John Reynolds, Judy Darragh and Grahame Sydney. He has also used some of his own paintings along with works by his son Otis and granddaughter Coco
However, there are a couple of problems.
Frizzell notes in one of his first chapters that “I’ve used no diagrams in this book…They tend to create more confusion than clarity.” That was an ill-advised decision which his collaborator or editors should have advised against.
While he dismisses the idea of diagrams, he uses the odd explanatory which are essentially descriptions of diagrams and these would really have been a more useful means of explanation.
Well-considered diagrams can be the best method of conveying information such as the often-used Space – Time Curvature diagram or the diagrammatic representation of the Big Bang to illustrate the evolution of the universe. Then there is the beauty of Marilyn Monroe’s explanation of the Theory of Relativity to Albert Einstein in Nicolas Roeg’s film “Insignificance”.
I would have thought that a series of diagrams by the artist himself would have been an ideal way of conveying scientific ideas on the shaper of the universe, the nature of relativity, gravity and black holes.
And then there are the illustrations themselves. Most of them are images of the sun, and other round objects which add little to our understanding. The two realist depiction of the sun in Graeme Sydney’s “Sunset: and Freeman White’s “Sunrise” do provide ideal illustration about the visible spectrum of light and the Earths effect on the sun’s rays. However the toothed black shape of Weston Frizzell “Black Hole Sun “which is used to illustrate Black Holes offers little in explanation although Patrick Pound photograph “Circle Games” seems an appropriate image to the chapter on eclipses.
While Frizzell comes across as an erudite, amateur cosmologist he admits he took advice from several other distinguished people including Samantha Lord of the Mt St John Observatory.