Bova, Ben. The Story of Light (2001)Entertaining, fact-filled, and far-ranging accountBova is a master at writing readable prose for a general readership. He's been at it for fifty years or more, and is among the best at making science fascinating. One is reminded of the work of the late, great, and sorely missed Isaac Asimov. Like Asimov, Bova is the author of over a hundred books, both fiction and nonfiction, and is especially celebrated for his innovative science fiction. I have only one small criticism. In his touting of the Strategic Defense Initiative from the Reagan administration and how lasers can be used to knock down ballistic missiles, he fails to mention how easily they can be fooled by dummy targets while failing to point out how ineffectual lasers are against "suitcase" nuclear bombs. To his credit Bova admits his bias on page 282, a bias that came about because he was employed as a marketing manager for the Avco Everett Research Laboratory in Massachusetts, a company that was in the business of making high-powered lasers.The chapters on the development of photography from the pinhole camera obscura to lasers, holography and fiber optics are among the most interesting. The fourth part of the book, "Book IV: To Seek," beginning on page 323 is a readable, concise update on how electromagnetic radiation is helping us to explore the universe. In other words, Bova gets to talk about subjects he loves dearly, cosmology, physics and astronomy. This is not a work for scientists; instead there is a clear emphasis on satisfying the needs of the general reader by providing a wealth of information about light and just about anything to do with light, including painting, perception, how the eye works, photography, photosynthesis--indeed, even the origin of life--the search for extraterrestrial life, extrasolar planets, radiation, LASIK surgery, relativity, quantum mechanics, gemstones and their uses, time travel, the ozone layer, nuclear fission and fusion...etc. His enthusiasm for solar power and especially for Solar-Powered Satellites, "huge satellites that can generate gigawatts of solar electricity and send it to Earth through microwave beams" (p. 310) is infectious and welcome.There is a modest bibliography and a short glossary and an index. One is occasionally amused at Bova's asides and quaint cultural references (e.g., Jimmy Durante!). He keeps a light-hearted tone and mixes in bits of toastmaster humor. I'm thinking of the "Hungarian recipe" for an omelette: "First, steal some eggs..." (p. 291) or his description of the active element fluorine in contrast to the relatively inert xenon, as "a used-car salesman who is running for mayor." (p. 271)The Story of Light can be profitably read by teenagers as well as by lay seniors looking to keep up with recent developments set in a clear historical context.Brian
Picked this book up after learning and being confused by Stephen Hawking's book that says that light can be both a particle and a wave. I was confused and hoped this book could help. This book takes many chapters to tell you that light is neither of those but is "electromagnetic energy". Thanks. That's much clearer. I still learned lots, but don't feel like I walked away with a clear answer or explanation of my question.