COSMOS Reading List – Episode 5: Hiding in the Light

The most recent episode of COSMOS focused on the science of light and how it has evolved over the centuries. Our viewing party this week didn’t feature a guest speaker BUT we did have a lot of fun playing astronomy-based Jeopardy.

Did watching the episode or playing science Jeopardy spark your interest in learning more about these topics?


Here is a brief list of books to get you started (with a note next to those that can be found on the shelves at some of our local, independent bookstores):

Manipulating Light: Reflection, Refraction, and Absorption by Darlene R Stille
“Provides an explanation of how light works, including how it bounces or reflects, how it bends or refracts, and how light gets absorbed. Also discusses mirrors, telescopes, and colors.” (

Light by Michael I. Sobel
“Like the denizens of some brilliant ocean, humans are awash in light. Surrounded by illuminations both natural and artificial, we remain blissfully unaware of how light determines most of life’s rhythms and rituals or how it dominates every field of modern science. Michael I. Sobel, a professor of physics at Brooklyn College, has attempted no less a task than to enlighten us (see how it pervades our language) about the many facets of this ubiquitous phenomenon, from its earliest stirrings of emotion and wonder in ancient savants to its modern applications in lasers and silicon chips.” (

A History of Optics from Greek Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century by Olivier Darrigol
“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.” (

Astronomy 101: From the Sun and Moon to Wormholes and Warp Drive, Key Theories, Discoveries, and Facts About the Universe by Carolyn Collins Peterson
“Explore the curiosities of the cosmos in this engaging book! Too often, textbooks go into more detail than readers have in mind when they want to learn a little something about astronomy. This is where Astronomy 101 comes in. It takes you out to the stars and planets and galaxies and discusses some of the latest Big Astronomy discoveries while presenting the basic facts about astronomy and space.  From the Big Bang and nebulae to the Milky Way and Sir Isaac Newton, this celestial primer is packed with hundreds of fascinating and entertaining astronomy charts and photographs selected to guide you through the universe. Whether you’re looking to unravel the mystery behind black holes, or just want to learn more about your favorite planets, Astronomy 101 has a LOT of answers–even the ones you didn’t know you were looking for.” (

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