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Bruce Watson

A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age

3.9 (27 ratings)
11 mins

Brief summary

Light by Bruce Watson is a fascinating account of the race to harness electricity and its impact on modern society. It showcases the remarkable story of the inventors, scientists, and entrepreneurs who transformed the world through the power of light.

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    Light has been an essential and influential phenomenon since the beginnings of humanity.

    The early humans didn’t study light – they worshiped it. In fact, as light crept across a continent each day, it was invariably met with reverence and awe.

    So, it’s not surprising that light is a key player in lots of creation myths. In the Finnish creation story, The Kalevala, an egg cracks open, its yolk becoming the sun and its white the moon.

    Or consider the Zuni Native American myth in which earth’s first people emerged from a dark underworld into glorious light. Then there are the Bushongo tribesmen of the Congo, who describe the god Bumba, a deity who vomited up the sun. As the sunlight spread, the earth’s primordial waters dried up and land began to surface.

    And finally, there’s the Book of Genesis, in which God says “let there be light.”

    So, light is essential to people all over the world and it was one of the first topics studied by ancient philosophers. Greek philosophers like Empedocles asked whether light came from an object or the eye that was seeing it. And in the fifth century BC, the philosopher Leucippus asserted that all objects emitted razor-thin light particles.

    Following this claim, Euclid and Ptolemy were some of the first people to study light in a laboratory setting, observing its reflection in flat and bent mirrors. From these studies, Euclid discovered that the angle at which light entered a mirrored plane was equal to the angle at which it was reflected. And Ptolemy figured out how curved mirrors interacted with light.

    But despite these experiments, nobody knew what light actually was.

    Because light remained a complete mystery, it became for many religions a symbol of all that is holy. For example, the Old Testament used light as a metaphor for God in a couple of ways:

    On Mount Sinai, Moses encountered the brightly burning bush from which God spoke to him. Not only that, but every sacred person in the biblical story is depicted with an aura of light that makes them glow.

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    What is Light about?

    Light (2016) is about illumination in all its forms. These blinks go back to the earliest days of humanity to show how, for millennia, light has served as divine, artistic and scientific inspiration.

    Light Review

    Light (2017) by Bruce Watson offers a fascinating exploration of how light has shaped human history and our understanding of the world. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It reveals the hidden impact of light on everyday life, from the invention of the lightbulb to the way light affects our moods and health.
    • Through compelling stories and anecdotes, it illuminates the role of light in major historical events, like the discovery of fire and the development of photography.
    • With its engaging blend of science, history, and culture, the book ensures that readers will never look at light the same way again.

    Best quote from Light

    Light was Rembrandts Holy Grail.

    —Bruce Watson
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    Who should read Light?

    • Scholars of cultural and scientific history
    • Anybody interested in the fascinating story of light

    About the Author

    Bruce Watson is a frequent contributor to Smithsonian magazine, where he writes about everything from eels to pi, artists and writers. His other books include Bread and Roses, Sacco and Vanzetti and Freedom Summer.


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    Light FAQs 

    What is the main message of Light?

    The main message of Light is to explore the impact of light on human life, from the scientific to the spiritual.

    How long does it take to read Light?

    The reading time for Light varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in about 15 minutes.

    Is Light a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Light is a captivating read that offers insights into the fascinating world of light and its significance in our lives.

    Who is the author of Light?

    The author of Light is Bruce Watson.

    What to read after Light?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Light, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • When Einstein Walked with Gödel by Jim Holt
    • Quantum Supremacy by Michio Kaku
    • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
    • On the Origin of Time by Thomas Hertog
    • The Order of Things by Michel Foucault
    • Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday
    • Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli
    • Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
    • The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss
    • The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh