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Optics in the Age of Euler


  • 13 b/w illus. 3 tables
  • Page extent: 256 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.38 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521035071 | ISBN-10: 0521035074)

According to received historiography, the fundamental issue in eighteenth-century optics was whether light could be understood as the emission of particles, or as the motion of waves in a subtle medium. Moreover, the emission theory of light was supposed to have been dominant in the eighteenth century, backed by Newton's physical arguments. This picture is enriched and qualified by focusing on the origins, contents and reception of the wave theory of light, published by Leonhard Euler in 1746, studied in depth in this 1995 book. Contrary to what has been assumed, the particle–wave debate only starts with Euler. When the emission view of light suddenly became dominant in Germany around 1795, it was new chemical experiments that proved crucial. Reflecting on the mathematical, experimental and metaphysical aspects of physical optics, a general picture of early modern science is outlined in the epilogue to the book.

• An in-depth study of L. Euler's wave theory of light • Enriches and corrects fundamental debate issues on optics • Sheds light on the relevance of chemistry for physical optics in the late eighteenth century


Acknowledgements; 1. Introduction; 2. The debate on colours, 1672–1720; 3. Theoretical traditions in physical optics, 1700–45; 4. Euler's 'Nova theoria' (1746); 5. The debate in Germany on the nature of light, 1740–95; 6. Epilogue: optics as a mirror of eighteenth-century science; Notes; Bibliography; Index.


'… well-balanced, and gives us a more comprehensive picture of Continental wave theories of the eighteenth century than has hitherto been available. It will provide an excellent companion volume to Cantor's earlier study.' M. J. Duck, Imperial College, London

'During the past 30 years historians of optics have done much to rewrite the history of the subject. In Optics in the Age of Euler Dr Hakfoort has added an important element to this reappraisal.' European Journal of Physics

'Hakfoort's book is both a significant contribution to the history of physics and also an interesting exploration of the interrelation between history and historiography.' British Journal for the History of Science

'… offers some fresh insights on this important topic.' Michael A. Sutton, Ambix

'Hakfoort's book is well researched. It is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the growing field of research in eighteenth-century optics.' Kurt Moller Pedersen, Centaurus

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