Waves And GrainsReflections on Light and Learning

Princeton University Press, 1998

ISBN 0-691-02741-2 (hardcover)
ISBN 0-691-00113-8 (softcover)

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Publisher's Commentary

Mark P. Silverman has seen light perform many wonders. From the marvel of seeing inside cloudy liquids as a result of his own cutting-edge research to reproducing and examining an unusual diffraction pattern first witnessed by Isaac Newton 300 years ago, he has studied aspects of light that have inspired and puzzled humans for hundreds of years. In this book, he draws on his many experiences as an optical and atomic physicist - and on his consummate skills as a teacher and writer about the mysteries of physics - to present a remarkable tour of the world of light. He explores theoretical, experimental, and historical themes, showing a keen eye for curious and neglected corners of the study of light and a fascination with the human side of scientific discovery.

Reviewer's Commentary

This is a special physics book in that it is personal: It is Sir Peter Medawar's Advice to a Young Scientist and much more. It is 'What Physics Means to Me' from someone to whom physics clearly implies connections across not only subdisciplines but also centuries. It is about physics as a discipline and a human pursuit. What's more, it is written in the language of physics. Although not Physics for Poets, it is poetry for physicists who might be wondering what drew them to their discipline and for others with an inkling that they might be so drawn. This book doesn't teach optics; it teaches the joy of optics. The essays explore unusual - indeed fascinating - questions linking diverse and far-reaching threads through the fabric of physics. This is what sets the book apart and what makes it so much more than a book of technical essays. I find personal anecdote, historical aside, rigorous mathematical derivations, things I knew once but had forgotten, and things I have never known but should have all woven around wonderful and fascinating applications of optics and their far-reaching threads.