Summary and book reviews of Light by Bruce Watson

Light

A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age

by Bruce Watson

Light by Bruce Watson X
Light by Bruce Watson
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  • Published:
    Feb 2016, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

Although lasers now perform everyday miracles, light retains its eternal allure. "For the rest of my life," Einstein said, "I will reflect on what light is." Light explores and celebrates such curiosity.

Light begins at Stonehenge, where crowds cheer a solstice sunrise. After sampling myths explaining First Light, the story moves on to early philosophers' queries, then through the centuries, from Buddhist temples to Biblical scripture, when light was the soul of the divine.

Battling darkness and despair, Gothic architects crafted radiant cathedrals while Dante dreamed a "heaven of pure light." Later, following Leonardo's advice, Renaissance artists learned to capture light on canvas. During the Scientific Revolution, Galileo gathered light in his telescope, Descartes measured the rainbow, and Newton used prisms to solidify the science of optics. But even after Newton, light was an enigma. Particle or wave? Did it flow through an invisible "ether"? Through the age of Edison and into the age of lasers, Light reveals how light sparked new wonders -relativity, quantum electrodynamics, fiber optics, and more.

"We eat light, drink it in through our skins."
--James Turrell, Light and Space artist

INTRODUCTION

Galileo was bewildered. Toward the end of his life, a life that witnessed wondrous light none had seen before, the great scientist confessed one failure. Decades had passed since a friend had given him several of the stones Italians called "solar sponges." Soaking up sunlight, emitting a soft green glow, the stones convinced Galileo that Aristotle had been wrong about light. It was not some warm, ethereal element. Light could be as cold as the moon and as corporeal as water. But what was it?

Over the years, Galileo had learned to reflect light, to bend it, to amaze observers with telescopes that spotted ships two hours sail from Venice. Turning his telescope toward the night sky, he had been the first to see the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. Later he proposed the first experiment to clock the speed of light, bouncing ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Watson's writing style keeps the narrative moving and his readers entertained. Readers already familiar with the science may find that Light doesn't provide much new information, but those with only basic knowledge and a curiosity about the natural world will find it a delight.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Weaving his own journeys and experiments throughout the work, Watson provides a panoramic view of human engagement with this most curiosity-inducing phenomenon.

Kirkus

Starred Review. An ingenious combination of science and art history.

Booklist

Starred Review. This is a story and a book chock-full of great and fascinating figures, each of whose personality and doings Watson deftly presents without detracting from the impetus of his millennia-spanning narrative. A dazzling book, as seems completely appropriate.

Author Blurb Charles C. Mann, author of the New York Times bestsellers 1491 and 1493
Bruce Watson's new book ... has the buoyant tone of a writer who is having fun - and who is able to convey that sense of excitement and discovery to the reader. Light, the phenomenon, has fascinated people for millennia. Light, the book, will fascinate them now.

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Beyond the Book

The Lighthouse of Alexandria

In Light, author Bruce Watson references the Lighthouse of Alexandria as one of the first instances where light was used in a large-scale manner for a practical purpose.

Alexander the Great built the city of Alexandria, Egypt, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in 331 BCE, and as part of the subsequent construction had a stone extension constructed to Pharos, a small island nearby. Called a "mole," this .75 mile long causeway became a breakwater for the port, creating a protected harbor for the city. Alexander's successor, Ptolemy I Soter, commissioned a lighthouse on the island — later simply called the Pharos — that would become one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and be the archetype for all lighthouses ...

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