352 pages, 91 b/w line drawings
This book is a long-term history of optics, from early Greek theories of vision to the nineteenth-century victory of the wave theory of light. It shows how light gradually became the central entity of a domain of physics that no longer referred to the functioning of the eye; it retraces the subsequent competition between medium-based and corpuscular concepts of light; and it details the nineteenth-century flourishing of mechanical ether theories. The author critically exploits and sometimes completes the more specialized histories that have flourished in the past few years. The resulting synthesis brings out the actors' long-term memory, their dependence on broad cultural shifts, and the evolution of disciplinary divisions and connections. Conceptual precision, textual concision, and abundant illustration make the book accessible to a broad variety of readers interested in the origins of modern optics.
Olivier Darrigol is one of the foremost and most productive historians of physics today. His books and articles cover a broad chronological period and are distinguished by their enormous scientific, historical, and philosophical sophistication. This book is no exception.
- Roger H. Stuewer, University of Minnesota, USA
"An engaging and accomplished history that bridges the gap between narrow research and popular treatments."
- Sean F. Johnston, University of Glasgow
1: From the Greeks to Kepler
2: Mechanical medium theories of the seventeenth century
3: Newton's optics
4: The eighteenth century
5: Interference, polarization, and waves in the early nineteenth century
6: Ether and matter
7: Waves and rays
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Olivier Darrigol is Research Director at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he has been a researcher since 1983. He won the Marc-Auguste Pictet prize of the Soci#t# de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Gen#ve in 2000 and the Grammaticakis-Neumann prize of the French Academy of Sciences in 2004.