Apollo's Fire

A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination


U.S. hardback

Chinese Translation

"Lyrical and learned."


"Sims takes readers on the 'scenic route'—and what a tour guide he is."


"Witty and erudite....Engaging and knowledgeable....A delightful book."


"Readers of Apollo's Fire will suddenly experience today—this ordinary day, like any other—as grand and momentous."


"[Sims's] delightful tour of day and night skies will inspire many readers to look up with a marveling new perspective."


"[Sims has written] another marvelous adventure uniting nature and human knowledge and imagination."


"Sims makes his new book....a kind of meditation.... Impressive erudition."


"[Sims is] a genial and exceedingly well-imformed guide."


"A magical mystery tour."


  A National Public Radio Best Science Book
Excerpted in Orion
A selection of the Scientific American Book Club, the Quality Paperback Book Club, and Reader's Subscription

Read AN INTERVIEW (and see a slide show of nature photographs) by clicking here.


“The idea behind Apollo's Fire is to wander through time, calling up fragments of science, mythology and literature while exploring the relationship between human beings and daylight as the sun moves through the sky.... This sort of weaving together of science and the more humane aspects of nature is what makes this book so interesting .... The sort of book... you’d keep at your side on a lazy summer day, dipping in occasionally as you undertake a leisurely contemplation of the world around you.”


"[Sims] follows what we know about the sun through science, through literature, through culture, through mythology, through ghost stories. And he's a lovely writer, a genuinely poetic writer. He does a great job of saying, What science teaches us about the sun influences everything, from the way we write poetry to the way we track our days, and what culture tells us that we should think about the sun again reflects on science; let's look at science in the context of how we live."

— NPR SCIENCE FRIDAY, "Best Science Books of 2007"

"Wordsworth had a nice line about our inescapable human fate: 'Rolled round in earth's diurnal course/ With rocks, and stones, and trees.' It just keeps happening willy-nilly, whether we pay attention or not. If you want to see the world turn with fresh eyes—or better yet, if you want to register the progress of earth's diurnal course with all your senses, acquire a copy of Michael Sims' lyrical and learned Apollo's Fire."


"A witty and erudite field guide to what [Sims] calls the 'oldest story on Earth,' the primordial cycle of the rising and setting sun....A book that encourages us to look both within and without....Sims' writing is both engaging and knowledgeable....As I read through Apollo's Fire, I kept slipping into dreamy reveries, comparing my own experiences with what Sims describes. I remembered the first time I saw moon shadows, trying to focus the light of a partial solar eclipse onto pavement, watching the changing colors of dawn or dusk. His writing not only helped me to understand the science of those experiences, but Sims' stories helped put them into a broader context. Sims has written a delightful book that will make you think and, I hope, encourage you to go outside and consider the world around you ."

— David B. Williams, SEATTLE TIMES

"Michael Sims makes his new book, Apollo's Fire, a kind of meditation—an assortment of ideas scientific, historical, and literary that orbit the topic of a day on Earth....Light, the day, and the sky are Sims' thematic hooks, and he exhibits a collector's fascination with historical detail and etymology....Impressive erudition."


"In his keen awareness and his heightened wakefulness to the miracles and mysteries of the world around us, the author may well stand out as one in a million....[He] knows his science and nature and knows how to express sometimes difficult concepts in forms that readers can understand....[but] it's literature that gives the book its eloquence and depth....Apollo's Fire is not a book to rush through. Though it spans the course of a single day, I found myself wanting to savor those minute and far-reaching observations even longer, to take those moments that Sims had already expanded, extrapolated from, and stretch them out even a little further....Thoreau may have been documenting his own day-to-day routine, but he was also offering an example for how his readers might live such a life to the fullest. Sims has his eyes open, certainly, but his goal isn't simply to prove that fact to us, to show us how clearly and cleverly he sees things. Instead, Sims wants to open our eyes, as well."


"Sims brings together a wealth of lore about the movement of the heavens—from the sun-stealing Raven of the Kwakiutl people to the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours—with lively accounts of the science that actually explains them....Readers familiar with Sims' book Adam's Navel know that he is above all a great synthesizer of information. His range of curiosity is enormous, and he seems to gather tidbits from every aspect of science and culture....Sims has the gift of weaving it all into a coherent whole that's greater than the sum of its parts....He moves effortlessly from the concrete to the abstract....It's a shame that we need a literary reminder of the complex beauty of an earthly day, but it's hard to imagine any book doing that task better, or more enjoyably, than Apollo's Fire."

— Maria Browning, NASHVILLE SCENE

"They say a great painting shows you an ordinary scene—a pasture you pass on your way to work every day, for instance—and suddenly makes you see it as if for the first time. Michael Sims' Apollo's Fire shows us something we've seen thousands of times: one day in the life of planet Earth....Sims' inquiries into the alternating dance of light and dark that plays upon our heavens reflects his wide range of interests and formidable reading schedule, as previously demonstrated in Adam's Navel and Darwin's Orchestra....Sims' beautiful retelling of the Phaethon story forms a bass note which ties the various themes of Apollo's Fire together. The story of Phaethon usefully binds a modern scientific understanding of our days to the intuited poetic understanding of ancient writers."

— Lynn Hamilton, BOOKPAGE

"[Sims explains] the mysteries of an ordinary day, from the colors of sunrise to the characteristics of shadows."


"Sims...has a rare gift for showing the most taken-for-granted basics of human life as radical, mystical and strange ....His prose is so illuminating that science becomes poetry and poetry science....After I finished Apollo's Fire, the ground felt unfamiliar under my feet....Readers of Apollo's Fire will suddenly experience today—this ordinary day, like any other—as grand and momentous. "

— Elizabeth Bachner, BOOKSLUT

"On one page you might find an explanation of the rising and falling of ozone levels in our air, on another the history of the myth of Apollo. Sims gives a tour of a full day, from dawn to night, with science, mythology, and men like Galileo and Edgar Allen Poe."

"What to Read This Fall"

"Whether portrayed as a winged chariot blazing across the sky or a smiling golden presence, the sun has always been a source of fascination. Before humans understood the science behind the passage of days, this reliable marker was the subject of myth and legend. Sims follows the passage of the sun on a typical day, blending history, physics, and astronomy. He explores research into the sun's composition and the nature of sunlight, describes the emergence of scientific understanding of the passage of time, and even recounts the invention of the sundial. The account also covers the biological rhythms that correspond with sunlight—rhythms that dictate the sleep-wake cycles and feeding patterns of various organisms. Finally, the author focuses on the vast darkness that envelops Earth after the sun sets, chronicling people's fascination with stars and the notion that Earth hangs in a great void."

"Notable Books of Scientific Interest"

"Apollo's Fire is a literary wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosity that collects snippets of Greek myth alongside images from High Noon and juxtaposes Japanese prints with the Muslim calendar....[Sims is] a genial and exceedingly well-informed guide, able to talk comfortably about the difficulties inherent in building an accurate sundial, various remedies for jet lag, and the etymology of the word 'twilight.' Although the temptation to veer off on tangents must have been great, he does a good job of keeping sight of his primary focus....This journey through time and space inspires awe: When you stop to think about it, it's quite incredible what we do, hurtling through space on a hunk of rock and water. Sims has gone to great lengths in the effort to make us stop and pay attention—at least for one day."


"Readers who enjoyed science writer Sims's Adam's Navel and Darwin's Orchestra will find themselves embarking on another marvelous adventure uniting nature and human knowledge and imagination....The writing is clear, focused, and accessible. Strongly recommended for all science collections, particularly in public libraries."

— Michael D. Cramer, LIBRARY JOURNAL

"A magical mystery tour of seasons and starlight, rainbows and eclipses, circadian rhythms and jet lag, inner space and outer....A walk with an erudite and entertaining docent through the most marvelous of museums."


"Sims' enthusiasm is infectious....Apollo's Fire indulges our natural curiosity, stimulates reflection and teaches us some interesting things about the astral and earthly phenomena that occur morning and night....This high-low ecumenical approach—Greek myth alongside Baby Boomer sci-fi—makes for a pleasant reading experience...Those who look back fondly on those late-night undergraduate conversations that seemed to encompass the whole world would do well to pick up Apollo's Fire."


"I've been thoroughly enjoying Michael Sims' new book, Apollo's Fire. Sims is an insightful and talented writer, author of Adam's Navel, which I loved. Apollo's Fire is a journey through the planet's oldest narrative, the cycle of day and night. Michael's writing is often praised for its wit and erudition. In this new book—in the clarity and elegance of its prose and its astonishing alchemy of art, history, literature, mythology, and solid science—it's easy to see why. I know from experience that shoe-horning sophisticated science into fluid narrative is no easy task, but Sims makes it seem so. Reading Apollo's Fire is like walking one whole turn of day with a curious and engaging friend, impossibly well read, who asks the questions you wish you'd thought of, and then answers them in lucid, beautiful, playful language: Sun dogs and moon shadows, contrails, the strange story of ozone, the border habitat of twilight, the nature of sunlight and the physics of wind, the myth of Apollo and the story of Phaethon. Best not to fly through this book, but to saunter, musing. Then run out and buy copies for your friends and family to keep on their nightstands. They'll thank you for it."

— Jennifer Ackerman, author of Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream and other books, interviewed about what she's been reading lately

"Sims takes readers through the daily cosmic and atmospheric science that play out as the Earth rotates on its axis. . . , describing numerous scientific phenomena that occur, as well as the way these moments have influenced human behavior through the ages."

—Cleveland Plain Dealer