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 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 Societe de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Geneve in 2000 and the Grammaticakis-Neumann prize of the French Academy of Sciences in 2004.
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