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The Wonders of Light - Marta Garcia-Matos and Lluis Torner **

I am very fond of Cambridge University Press, so it truly pains me that I can't say much that is positive about this glossy, slim book which claims to help us explore the multitude of ways that light-based technologies are shaping our society. There's a certain class of book sometimes called in the trade 'business vanity publishing', where a company or organization pays for a book to be produced about themselves. Inevitably no one ever wants to buy them, they are just given away as promotional items. And that's exactly what this book feels like.

The book consists of 16 sections (it calls them chapters, but they're too short for that), all in the same format. To pick one at random, titled 'Virus Attack - but don't panic', it starts with a page of text about a virologist using a microscope to study virus-cell interactions, in the form of supposed plot of a science fiction movie (though possibly the dullest movie ever made). There's then a page with an image and this rather limited text: 'Cell mechanisms can be fooled by external enemies... and perform as perfect allies for an alien invasion. How does this happen? The relevant movements occur inside a region of a billionth of a meter!' Then there's a two page spread, rather like a Dorling Kindersley book on what happens in a virus attack. Finally we've got a whole page listing 'scientific and technical advisors' for this masterpiece, a glossary covering five terms and recommended reading and photo credits.

A clear marker that this is one of those vanity publications is that 1/7th of the entire content is essentially a list of people no-one cares about. That and the confused nature of the contents. Bearing in mind, this is supposed to be a book about the applications of light, look back over the previous paragraph and see how many times light gets a mention. Okay, it was an optical microscope, but that's it.

It's a very attractive looking little book, but it's extremely hard to see why anyone would buy it. It's not particularly interesting to read through from end to end. It hasn't got the punchy, dip-in book, feel of one of those '30-Second Physics' type books. It doesn't say a lot about light. Oh, and this paperback with around 48 pages of actual text content, costs just under £20. (You can get it about £1 cheaper on Kindle - but then you lose the glossy prettiness.)

I'm afraid it just doesn't work for me.


Review by Brian Clegg


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