I have a lot of catching up to do in terms of popular science books, so I’ve recently been doing an intense amount of reading. A lot of my focus has been on reading books by people I’m acquainted with through social media. A few weeks ago while at the bookstore, I happened across the beautiful book Light (2015), by Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke.
The cover, which is an image of the Sun pieced together from images over a range of wavelengths, is a perfect preview of what to expect from the book itself. Light is a full-color exploration of electromagnetic radiation in all of its forms, describing the science behind such radiation as well as its use in a variety of applications. The result is a beautiful and compelling book which can appeal to the public and scientists alike.
Before you ask: yes, the word “light” can be used to refer to any type of electromagnetic wave; we often use it as a shorthand for “visible light,” but that longer terminology itself indicates that there is more than one type of light! The book describes all types, starting with the lowest energy (longest wavelength) part of the electromagnetic spectrum and moving upward. After an introductory chapter, we get descriptions, in order, of radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, X-rays, and gamma rays.
In a nice stylistic choice, the page edges of each chapter are colored with the visible spectrum, ranging from red for radio waves to violet for gamma rays, increasing in energy just as the chapter subjects increase in energy. Along the way, subsections in each chapter provide information on astronomy, physics, medicine, and even biology. The history of the electromagnetic spectrum is also discussed, providing information on the accidental discoveries, for example, of infrared light and X-rays.
My impression is that Light would be perfect for someone, young or old, who is interested in science but doesn’t have a background in it. The images are absolutely beautiful and often awe-inspiring, and the descriptions are clear and non-technical. It would be a perfect gift, really, for any science enthusiast you know, or anyone you want to inspire with science!
That isn’t to say, though, that Light isn’t of value for scientists. Even though I work in optical physics, I found the “big picture” view of electromagnetic radiation to be very compelling and I learned a number of interesting things while reading the book. It is nice to see the entire electromagnetic spectrum portrayed all at once, showing how each aspect of light teaches us something unique about the universe.
Overall, Light is a lovely exploration of electromagnetism, and well-worth picking up if you need to be inspired by the wonders of the universe.