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American Institute of Physics



Book Review

Modern Classical Optics

Geoffrey Brooker
Oxford University Press, New York, 2003
397 pp.
ISBN 0-19-859964-1 hb 0-19859965-X pb

Reviewed by Georg Nikolaus Nyman

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book coverWhen I saw this title available for review, I was excited—classical optics is a discipline that usually does not attract much attention anymore at universities around the world. As soon as I received this book, however, I was surprised: its title, Modern Classical Optics, is misleading.

Geoffrey Brooker, a lecturer in optics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, states in the preface that he should not have called the book “classical optics” but “semiclassical optics.” I would have called it “advanced modern optics.” Classical optics is not dealt with much in this book, and when it does come up, it is presented in such a nonclassical way that the reader needs to really study the chapters in detail to understand the information presented. I agree that it is necessary to discuss the Maxwell equations, but is it the right approach to start with them in a book about classical optics?

Without much introduction to optical laws, definitions, conventions, components, materials, or elements, Brooker suddenly comes to the thin lens. He neglects the fundamental basics of optics: for example, thick lenses are mentioned only three times in the entire book and also without detailing of properties. Apparently, all the fundamental laws, properties, and definitions of classical optics are supposed to have already been studied, understood, and digested, and so are not discussed properly in this book.

The deeper one digs into Modern Classical Optics, the more difficult it gets to follow and understand the author’s concept. To me, the entire book is a nonsequential and strenuous cross-country hike through certain parts of optical physics, and not a textbook on classical optics. Aberrations, image formation, first-order optics, and other well-known terms and topics are either not discussed or only briefly mentioned. For example, when Brooker discusses optical equipment, he presents a few highlights in a very short and often challenging summary. Abbe’s theory, phase contrast, and other contrasting techniques in microscopy are briefly explained, but I doubt that anyone not already familiar with these topics could derive many benefits from this kind of presentation.

The photographic process is explained as well—although the well-known diagram of optical density versus exposure is shown inverted, which is different from almost all other textbooks. It is not wrong, but is it necessary? Or is it done just to be different?

I got the impression that the author wanted to present optics in a different way from many other existing textbooks. His book is organized such that he includes thought-provoking problems to solve with every chapter (like those in Optics by M. V. Klein and T. E. Furtak, J. Wiley & Sons, 1986). Brooker also includes side remarks for almost every page in the book. Some led me to the conclusion that his understanding of classical optics is rather unconventional compared with what we are used to reading in textbooks such as Klein and Furtak’s Optics, Optics (E. Hecht and A. Zajac, Addison-Wesley, 1974), or any of the classical textbooks on optics by Rudolf Kingslake, Paul Drude, or A. E. Conrady.

Would I recommend this book, as it is not really a textbook on classical optics? It is certainly an interesting and demanding book for those who are already familiar with classical optics and want to explore an advanced and nontraditional approach.


Georg Nikolaus Nyman is an independent consultant for optical equipment and instruments in Colorado. He has worked in the optical equipment industry since 1979 for companies such as Reichert, Hamamatsu Photonics, Leica, Zeiss, OSI, and Gretag Imaging.