February 25, 2020

Review:Total Addiction by Kate Russo.


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Thank our good fortune for our one large Moon. While many an astronomer might curse its presence in the night sky, its very existence gives us an astronomical phenomenon that may well be unique in our neck of the galaxy; total solar eclipses. And that happy coincidence of having a Moon that’s roughly 1/300th the diameter of our nearest star but 300 times closer is also a happenstance of our position in time as well; the Moon is receding from us at about 3.8 centimetres a year, meaning that about 0.6 billion years hence, the last total solar eclipse will be seen from the surface of the planet Earth.

This week’s review offers a unique human perspective on the phenomenon of total solar eclipses. Total Addiction: The Life of an Eclipse Chaser by Kate Russo out from Springer Books looks at eclipses from the standpoint of human psychology. What occurs in the human mind when we’re confronted with the awe-inspiring sight of a total solar eclipse? What are the true tales and life stories of those who chase eclipses, and what compels them to do so? Much has been written on the lore, science and history of eclipses both on the web and in print, but this book may be the first to address “eclipse-chasing” in a psychological case study style format.

Eclipse-chasers or “umbraphiles” are a breed unto themselves, perhaps only superseded in the world of amateur science aficionados by bird watchers and orchid hunters. Some plan their lives and travels around total solar eclipses, looking to rack up those brief moments in the umbra afforded by totality. Many describe the moment of totality as transcendental, a feeling of standing under the eye of God. Those who have seen a total eclipse assure us “eclipse virgins” that partial and annular eclipses just aren’t the same, and that once bitten by the eclipse bug, you’ll be sure to want to witness another. In fact, the book notes that the most common discussion heard after totality is “So, when’s the next one?”

The study sees eclipse-chasing as a healthy addiction, one which focuses on an inner need that we all feel at times to live an authentic life beyond mere social obligation. I thought it was especially interesting how many eclipse chasers advised first-timers to eschew photography in favor of a simply experiencing the event. And no, watching one on the web simply isn’t the same! You can always save photography for the second experience, one that you’ll find increasingly necessary once eclipse-chasing gets in your blood.

It’s also interesting how many first time eclipse viewers noted that the sight of totality caught them off guard, even though they knew intellectually what to expect. An eclipse forces us to confront the reality of the universe head on and in a very primal way. It fascinating to ponder how when confronted with such, we see ourselves.

Do seek out Kate Russo’s outstanding book. She also maintains a blog of her adventures and studies in the psychology of eclipses entitled Being in the Shadow. Also, check out Michael Zeiler’s outstanding site Eclipse-Maps as reviewed last year on this site. Our next shot a totality worldwide will be on November 3rd of this year with a hybrid eclipse that crosses the Atlantic and central Africa. And totality finally once again touches the continental United States after an almost 40 year hiatus with the total solar eclipse of August 21st, 2017. How many new viewers will be “bitten” by the eclipse bug?

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