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LET IT SHINE

The 6,000-Year Story of Solar Energy

Even as concern over climate change and energy security fuel a boom in solar technology, many still think of solar as a twentieth-century wonder. Few realize that the first photovoltaic array appeared on a New York City rooftop in 1884, or that brilliant engineers in France were using solar power in the 1860s to run steam engines, or that in 1901 an ostrich farmer in Southern California used a single solar engine to irrigate three hundred acres of citrus trees. Fewer still know that during the Renaissance Galileo and his contemporaries planned the construction of sun-focusing mirrors as the ultimate weapon to burn enemy fleets and towns, that Leonardo da Vinci planned to make his fortune by building half-mile-long mirrors to heat water, or that the Bronze Age Chinese used hand-sized solar-concentrating mirrors to light fires the way we use matches and lighters today.

In this definitive history of solar technology, John Perlin tells a story that goes back more than six thousand years to when the Stone Age Chinese built their homes to make maximum use of the sun’s energy in winter. The book profiles the fascinating characters who made the solar revolution possible, revealing a group of unknown pioneers, like Gustav Vorherr, who opened up the first school of solar architecture in the 1820s, as well as solar advocates known for other accomplishments, such as Socrates, who 2,500 years ago gave a detailed discourse on designing passive solar homes.

With thirteen new chapters, Let It Shine is a fully revised and expanded edition of A Golden Thread, Perlin’s classic history of solar technology, detailing the past forty years of technological developments driving today’s solar renaissance. This unique and compelling compendium of humankind’s solar ideas tells the fascinating story of how our predecessors throughout time, again and again, have applied the sun to better their lives — and how we can too.

Endorsements

Let It Shine is the solar bible. Thank you, John Perlin!”
Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute

“John Perlin is the historian of solar energy. He now takes the history back thousands of years to early Chinese architecture and the yang-sui, the little bronze mirrors boys used to start the family fire, to nineteenth-century inventors who feared that coal supplies were about to run out, to modern passive solar buildings and today’s falling costs and growing use of photovoltaics. He does all this with a penchant for the diverse characters along the journey and with remarkable illustrations that vividly capture the six-thousand-year story of solar energy.”
Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World and The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power

“With remarkable depth, breadth, and precision, John Perlin lays out humankind’s long reliance on the sun before the carbon era and points the way to a healthy, comfortable, productive, resilient solar-powered world. There is more intelligence and common sense in this volume than in all the federal reports on energy of the last quarter-century combined.”
Denis Hayes, former director of the federal Solar Energy Research Institute and founder of the Earth Day Network

“The authoritative background story behind the worldwide solar revolution, Let It Shine is a story of human ingenuity and perseverance told with clarity and depth. The next chapter is ours to write.”
David W. Orr, professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College and author of Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse

Let It Shine makes it abundantly clear that solar energy has a long and glorious past — a prologue, in fact — that is as bright and diverse as its future will be. Far from being a disruption of the current energy economy, solar power can be harnessed in thousands of ways, making it easy to embrace and integrate into our future, as this book brilliantly demonstrates.”
Daniel M. Kammen, distinguished professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley

Let It Shine shows how today’s renewable revolution builds on the tenacious efforts of countless generations of innovators whose vision we may finally be privileged enough to bring to full flower.”
— from the foreword by Amory Lovins, cofounder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute

Praise for A Golden Thread, the previous edition of Let It Shine:

“An absolute must-read.”
Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of Powering the Dream

“Western man has been using the sun’s rays for useful purposes since the days of ancient Greece, as this comprehensive, carefully researched, clearly written history of solar architecture and technology makes abundantly clear. The illustrations and diagrams that illuminate the text on almost every page are especially fine examples of modern graphic presentations.”
New York Times

“It is a humbling book. Handsomely illustrated and lucidly written, A Golden Thread is a rich mine of information.”
Los Angeles Times

“The history of mankind’s efforts to use the sun’s energy is a fascinating story, one told in a lively yet scholarly manner here....The triumphs and defeats of solar pioneers help us appreciate what a solar future may yet hold.”
Christian Science Monitor

“This book is sorely needed in the solar publication field, for although there are any number of how-to books on solar technology, few if any examine the history of this much-neglected energy source in any depth.”
Denver Post

“I just happened to be carrying A Golden Thread in my suitcase at Princeton. On my way home, I devoured it. Richly illustrated and thoroughly documented, it is a feast for the most critical historian’s mind and eye.”
Technology Review