Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light

Astronomer and science lecturer Bob Berman (Zoom, The Sun's Heartbeat) may have taken the title of Zapped from the suburban backyard "bug zapper," but his book is a much more comprehensive review of the "invisible light" around us. In a sense, our world of microwaves, cell towers and satellites, X-rays, GPS, radiation leaks and so on puts us all in a cosmic bug zapper. Chronologically, Berman explores the scientists who discovered the light that exists outside the visible spectrum (that of the grade school mnemonic ROY G BIV, representing the colors in decreasing wavelength from red to violet). There's William Herschel who found infrared light (beneath red), Johann Ritter who stumbled on ultraviolet light (beyond violet), as well as Röntgen (the X-ray) and Faraday (electromagnetism). Without these anecdotal and historical interludes and a smattering of illustrations, the necessarily dry nuts and bolts of wavelength and frequency science might make readers scratch their heads.

In making the "invisible visible," Berman also attempts to address urban legends about the dangers of such common appliances as microwave ovens and cellphones. Of the latter, he asks: "Is it okay to warm up your teenager's brain?" and answers: "taking a single hot shower heats far more bodily tissue in one shot than using your cell phone nonstop for a month." Which is not to say that he dismisses the specific dangers of laser pointers, X-rays or prolonged UV sunburn--only that he keeps them in context. Zapped is the story of how we got from the Renaissance scientific argument of whether light is a particle or a wave, to a world where invisible light surrounds us and makes our lives easier and more interconnected. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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