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The Fire within the Eye:
A Historical Essay on the Nature and Meaning of Light
David Park

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1998
A New York Times "Notable Book of the Year," 1997
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Books of 1998

Paperback | 1997 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691050515
Hardcover | 1997 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691043326


In The Fire within the Eye, scientist and author David Park helps us reconceive the everyday phenomenon of light in profound ways, from spiritual meanings embedded in our culture to the challenging questions put forth by great scientists and philosophers. Park, who is both a gifted teacher and physicist, takes us on a tour through history spanning ancient Greek, Neoplatonic, and Arabic philosophy together with astrology, the metaphysics of Galileo and Kepler, and the role of mathematics and experimentation in modern physics. By creatively synthesizing a broad sweep of historical events and intellectual movements around the theme of light, the author offers readers of all backgrounds a unique perspective on Western civilization itself. Readers will find themselves immersed in lively discussions conducted by a physicist equally at home exploring the invention of perspective by Brunelleschi and Alberti, the writings of Goethe, or the mathematical models inspiring Maxwell's electromagnetic theory.

Plato made light the earthly counterpart of the Good; the early Christians believed the command "Let there be light" unleashed a power that shaped and energized the world. Park follows the connotations of spirituality and power attributed to light in religion, philosophy, art, and literature. At the same time he enables us truly to feel the excitement surrounding scientific discoveries and debates about the nature of light throughout history --Isaac Newton's scientific explanation of color and the raging battles between proponents of light as particles and light as a wave. Park traces the attempts to define light, beginning in the nineteenth century with the proposal that light is a wave motion in a field that unites electricity and magnetism. How this theory was reconciled with the particle theory of light is one of many paradoxes that Park guides us in understanding.

Park writes eloquently of the physical, aesthetic, and spiritual aspects of light, making this book an invaluable guide for all readers wishing to explore the fascinating relationship between science and culture.


"Park's essay requires serious attention from readers, but the effort is worth it. This substantial, well-written book is strongly recommended. . . . "--Library Journal

"[A] panoramic study of our understanding of light. The historical sweep of Park's examination is vast; his cast of characters ranges from pre-Socratics through the medieval scientists to the giants of modern physics. . . a fine work of science. . . . "--Publishers Weekly

"Park belongs to that golden academic period when teachers were sufficiently modern to tell you that understanding the problem was more important than getting the answer, but also sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that their chief business was to reconstruct, not deconstruct, the world. . . . Like a refracted beam, his story keeps shining its attention upon overlooked patches of ground. The result is almost a history of science itself."--Thomas Mallon, New Yorker

"It is good to hear from a physical scientist steeped in history and philosophy who knows that the latest scientific knowledge is not the only truth that has accrued around light. . . . Park is an excellent guide. . . . [He] narrates this long and complex story with transparent prose. Such writing gives a sense of careful thinking behind the clear writing. . . . In fact, the book combines the scholarly with the approachable."--Sidney Perkowitz, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"[A] graceful book. . . . In the first sentence he walks out of the dark night into his lighted house. In the final sentence he returns to the shadows, and we find ourselves still in darkness, but somehow illuminated by the experience. . . . Perhaps someday another experimenter will emerge from the shadows of the lab to explain the light. Until that day arrives. . . [N]o one can hold a candle to David Park."--Dick Teresi, The New York Times Book Review

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