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Of all the remarkable substances of our experience – rain, leaves, baby toes – light is perhaps the most miraculous...


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The book reminds me of Richard Feynman’s QED: The Strange Story of Light and Matter, from which you can learn a lot with good explanations and a few figures.
Science writing does not get any better than The Optics of Life, and I highly recommend this enjoyable and enlightening book to a broad audience from freshmen to graybeards.

--Curtis Mobley, American Journal of Physics (read full review here: starts on third page)


"...surprisingly readable and fun"

--Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic (read full review here)


While commendably up to date, The Optics of Life is also composed in an enticing style, pruned of all unnecessary jargon. It will speak not only to biological scientists,
but also to physicists interested in the countless roles played by light in the natural world.

--Bernard Dixon OBE, The Biologist (read full review here)


"[Johnsen's] style is fluent, witty and a pleasure to read...I am grateful to this book for forcing me to come to terms with a number of aspects of light that I had been delinquent enough to ignore, and in a way that was a pleasure — like a long walk in hilly country."

--Mike Land, Current Biology (read full review here)


"Because of its emphasis on correctly approaching the way physical measurements should be made, The Optics of Life has something to offer anyone whose research directly or tangentially involves light. More than a biologist's guide to light in nature, this book is a guide for any scientist interested in optics and the world around us."

-- Nicholas Roberts, Physics Today (read full review here)


"Johnsen's treatment is both inviting and sophisticated. He introduces every idea with a carefully worded and straight-forward description, often with anlogies to other real world experiences or ideas. He treats the mathematical details on a 'need to know' basis and usually goes no further than some simple algebra. But Johnsen has picked the details he does present carefully, and the simple principles have profoundly important impacts on biological optics and how we study it."

-- Richard Prum, The Wilson Journal of Ornithology (read full review here)


"This book is written in an entertaining style so it is a pleasure to read. Each chapter starts with a thought-provoking quote, and ends with an amusing and interesting anecdote or reverie. My favorite chapters contain illuminating discussions on scattering, scattering with interference, absorbance, and transparency. [V]isual ecology and physiology have become significantly productive subdisciplines in biology. . . . Sönke Johnsen serves as a conduit between these two fields, as he gracefully presents the physical principles of optics in a simplifying manner that makes the reader want to apply new found knowledge to their own research."

-- John E. Steffen, Integrative and Comparative Biology (read full review here)


Johnsen masterfully guides the reader through a fascinating area of applied optics which has been very active in recent decades. [This book] will be of interest to a variety of readers, from undergraduate students in biology to curious researchers looking for a greater understanding of nature.

-- Christian Brosseau, Optics and Photonics News (read full review here)


"Johnsen has written an excellent, readable, practical, and greatly entertaining introductory book on light and its
applications in the biological sciences, including ecology."

-- John Lambropoulos, Choice Reviews (read full review here)


I really enjoyed the explanations of how we see and perceive the world around us. I will watch twilight with a new perspective now.

-- Joseph Ferrara, Crystallography Times (read full review here)




"This book provides just about everything one needs to know about biological optics, from the nature of light and its transmission to intensity, color, and polarization properties and their consequences. It is informal yet detailed, and will be easily accessible to anyone interested in biological optics, environmental optics, and animal or human vision. I highly recommend it."

--John A. Endler, professor of sensory ecology and evolution, Deakin University, Australia


"The Optics of Life provides a user-friendly introduction to the physics and measurement of light. From plant physiologists working on photosynthesis to visual scientists stimulating eyes with light, many biologists will benefit greatly from the wisdom and insight provided in this book. The Optics of Life is a major contribution to the field, and will no doubt become a classic."

--Eric Warrant, Lund University, Sweden


"This is a gem of a book. It's the one I wish I had when I was starting out in photoecology--it would have saved me a lot of pain. The style is very entertaining and the material is wonderfully practical and down-to-earth. Every biologist should read it."

--Edith A. Widder, CEO and senior scientist, Ocean Research and Conservation Association, Fort Pierce, FL, USA




1. “Detector” is misspelled in figures 10.3 and 10.4
2. the correct citation for Figure 3.14 is A. P. Lane and W. M. Irvine (1973). Monochromatic phase curves and albedos for the lunar disk. Astronomical Journal 78, 267–277.
3. The scale bar in figure 5.5 should read "1 µm" not "1 mm"
4. The scale bar in figure 5.6 should read "0.1 µm" not "0.1 mm"
5. just below equation B.2 on page 290 in Appendix B, the quotient equation for the x value is the reciprocal of what it should be.













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