Subscribe
Subscribe
MY AMERICAN SCIENTIST
LOG IN! REGISTER!
SEARCH
 
Logo IMG

BOOK REVIEW

Optical Allusions

Samuel Petuchowski

Waves and Grains: Reflections on Light and Learning. Mark P. Silverman. xii + 410 pp. Princeton University Press, 1998. $22.50.

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. Mark Silverman is matter-of-fact about his calculations—neither condescending nor tutorial. He allows the reader to glimpse his world, and one may either admire his algebraic facility or gloss over it and come back to it in graduate school.

The material collected here appears to be the overflow of an autobiography, the apocrypha, as it were, of a career. Each chapter is an etude executed with its own virtuosity, drawing yet another connection. Some chapters start out as technical studies, as a pianist might practice fingering but with analytical agility. Insights spill out. Some of them deal with fundamental concepts such as the wave-particle duality of light; others deal with the seemingly esoteric, with experiments that seldom receive attention because they are analytically messy—but here again, connections emerge. Silverman has made a career, he informs the reader, of studying the unfashionable.

This approach leads Silverman to a philosophy of scientific pedagogy and to a thoughtful analysis of the role of the science professor. I was inspired to imagine a holographic physics curriculum in which concepts such as interaction or scaling or invariance might be taught from the inside out and applied, by way of examples, to various sub-disciplines.

Silverman concludes that the qualities that have advanced and enriched the history of optics (and, by extension, science) have been creative genius, experimental skill, articulate expression, incisive wit, personal courage and, in a few cases at least, compassion and simple humanity.— Samuel J. Petuchowski, Bromberg & Sunstein LLP, Boston


comments powered by Disqus
 

Connect With Us:

Facebook Icon Sm Twitter Icon Google+ Icon Pinterest Icon RSS Feed

Sigma Xi/Amazon Smile (SciNight)


Subscribe to Free eNewsletters!

  • American Scientist Update

  • An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns, and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.

  • Scientists' Nightstand: Holiday Special!

  • News of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.

    To sign up for automatic emails of the American Scientist Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an online profile, then sign up in the My AmSci area.


RSS Feed Subscription

Receive notification when new content is posted from the entire website, or choose from the customized feeds available.


Read Past Issues on JSTOR

JSTOR, the online academic archive, contains complete back issues of American Scientist from 1913 (known then as the Sigma Xi Quarterly) through 2005.

The table of contents for each issue is freely available to all users; those with institutional access can read each complete issue.

View the full collection here.


EMAIL TO A FRIEND :

Of Possible Interest

Book Review: Living Color

Book Review: “The Colonel Says”

Book Review: The Paisley Leopard

Subscribe to American Scientist