The author, a science historian and educator, introduces the reader to the works of key figures in optics up to the nineteenth century. The text concisely describes the philosophical, physical and mathematical theories and experiments that helped to define our knowledge of light. Darrigol also provides a social, political and cultural context for the period. The text is augmented by many high-quality images. Excellent legends allow the figures to be understood independently of the text. A detailed bibliography and index are most useful. The author provides comprehensive footnotes which encourage further exploration of the primary sources. The analogies between sound and light are fascinating to read, as is the construction of the ether and its role in optics. The more mathematical analysis of Hamiltonian optics, Kirchhoff’s diffraction theory and Fourier synthesis are concisely presented. This highly recommended book is rigorous in its physics and mathematics and totally enjoyable to read.

Review by Barry R. Masters, Fellow of AAAS, OSA and SPIE. He is with the department of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.

The opinions expressed in the book review section are those of the reviewer and do not necessarily reflect those of OPN or OSA.