Why the Sky Is Blue: Discovering the Color of Life

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Overview

"This delightful combination of science and history should be required reading for poets, pilots, artists, weather watchers, and anyone who ever marveled at the manifest colors of the sky or wondered why it is only sometimes 'blue.'"--James Rodger Fleming, Colby College

"An absorbing study of historical approaches to the everyday fact of the blue sky above us, Götz Hoeppe's Why the Sky is Blue is full of revelations. The story it tells of the sky's appearance as an issue of speculation and investigation will appeal both to the specialist and the general reader."--Eileen Reeves, author of Painting the Heavens: Art and Science in the Age of Galileo

Praise for the original German edition: "In this richly illustrated volume, the author describes and explains the color and appearance of the firmament, from earlier times to the current day. It is an exciting excursion from mythology, art, and philosophy up through modern science."--Die Welt

Praise for the original German edition: "This is a multilayered book that makes a seemingly commonplace observation the starting point of an exciting journey of discovery . . . The color of the sky proves to be the key to understanding many of our cultural achievements in science, art and everyday life."--NDR 1's Bücherwelt

Praise for the original German edition: "Hoeppe has succeeded in something completely special: the book combines the research of the natural sciences with philosophical and cultural reflections-all elegantly expressed."--Saarlndischer Rundfunk

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Editorial Reviews

Saarländischer Rundfunk

Praise for the original German edition: "Hoeppe has succeeded in something completely special: the book combines the research of the natural sciences with philosophical and cultural reflections--all elegantly expressed.
1's Bucherwelt
Praise for the original German edition: This is a multilayered book that makes a seemingly commonplace observation the starting point of an exciting journey of discovery . . . The color of the sky proves to be the key to understanding many of our cultural achievements in science, art and everyday life.
Times Literary Supplement - P.D. Smith
As Götz Hoeppe's excellent history of our attempts to explain the blue of the sky shows, from moments of wonder...scientific theories grow...A thorough and detailed history.
New Scientist - Jon Richfield
Delivering far more than the title promises, Hoeppe's book describes an intellectual quest that began with the ancients. He details our growing understanding of the sky's light, and the insights and experiments that brought it about. . . . A well-illustrated, rewarding read.
Maui News - Harry Eagar
This book could as easily have been titled 'Is the Sky Blue?' And the answer to that is yes and no.... One of the interesting things about Why the Sky is Blue is that as a German, Hoeppe spreads credit for the development of physics farther east than most popular scientific histories in English do. He also presents a number of phenomena that readers can try out in their backyards.
Universe Today - Mark Mortimer
Sure we all know it's blue, and most of us know why. Or, at least we think we know why. This book shows that our sky comes in as many shades of blue as a painter has in their palette. But each shade has a natural explanation, hence the size and value of this enlightening book. Hoeppe's book works through humanity's understanding of the phenomenon of the blue sky by advancing chronologically....[The] attention to detail, the thoroughness of his review and the vibrant style of writing (even though a translation) make this book worthwhile reading.
Choice - N. Sadanand
This wonderful, discursive book begins with a child's common question and proceeds to provide and interdisciplinary answer with historical perspective and insight...[Hoeppe] enhances the very perception of both the immediate and farthest reaches of the universe.
European Legacy - Hans J. Rindisbacher
Why the Sky Is Blue is popular science at its best. In fact, it is considerably more than that: in ten chapters, an epilogue, several appendices, notes, and a bibliography of further reading, the book provides a broad overview since classical antiquity of how scholars have grappled with explanations for the intriguing blue color of the sky above us all. As it turns out, the simple question, why the sky is blue, requires a veritable tour de force through western cultural history and the history of science for a complete and satisfactory answer.
Cosmos Magazine - David Kay
The subject of this book is interesting enough in its own right, but equally importantly, it is an informative case study of the ways that human thinking has progressed in our attempts to understand the world in which we live.
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society - Jeffrey S. Gaffney
Overall, I found the book to be very well written and translated, well illustrated, and an easy and quite enjoyable read. The author makes use of a number of stories to enhance the subject matter that will make this a very useful textbook for those teaching high school or lower-division undergraduate level courses on the subjects of optics, atmospheric science, and history of science. Noting that there are few books that are currently available on the subject that deal with this historical perspective, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.
Times Literary Supplement - P. D. Smith
As Götz Hoeppe's excellent history of our attempts to explain the blue of the sky shows, from moments of wonder...scientific theories grow...A thorough and detailed history.
1's "Bücherwelt

Praise for the original German edition: "This is a multilayered book that makes a seemingly commonplace observation the starting point of an exciting journey of discovery . . . The color of the sky proves to be the key to understanding many of our cultural achievements in science, art and everyday life.
From the Publisher

"Overall, I found the book to be very well written and translated, well illustrated, and an easy and quite enjoyable read. The author makes use of a number of stories to enhance the subject matter that will make this a very useful textbook for those teaching high school or lower-division undergraduate level courses on the subjects of optics, atmospheric science, and history of science. Noting that there are few books that are currently available on the subject that deal with this historical perspective, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book."--Jeffrey S. Gaffney, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Times Literary Supplement
As Götz Hoeppe's excellent history of our attempts to explain the blue of the sky shows, from moments of wonder...scientific theories grow...A thorough and detailed history.
— P. D. Smith
Die Welt
Praise for the original German edition: In this richly illustrated volume, the author describes and explains the color and appearance of the firmament, from earlier times to the current day. It is an exciting excursion from mythology, art, and philosophy up through modern science.
Saarlandischer Rundfunk
Praise for the original German edition: Hoeppe has succeeded in something completely special: the book combines the research of the natural sciences with philosophical and cultural reflections—all elegantly expressed.
New Scientist
Delivering far more than the title promises, Hoeppe's book describes an intellectual quest that began with the ancients. He details our growing understanding of the sky's light, and the insights and experiments that brought it about. . . . A well-illustrated, rewarding read.
— Jon Richfield
Deutsche-Welle
Hoeppe offers accessible insights into a question that extends well beyond the realm of science.
Maui News
This book could as easily have been titled 'Is the Sky Blue?' And the answer to that is yes and no.... One of the interesting things about Why the Sky is Blue is that as a German, Hoeppe spreads credit for the development of physics farther east than most popular scientific histories in English do. He also presents a number of phenomena that readers can try out in their backyards.
— Harry Eagar
Universe Today
Sure we all know it's blue, and most of us know why. Or, at least we think we know why. This book shows that our sky comes in as many shades of blue as a painter has in their palette. But each shade has a natural explanation, hence the size and value of this enlightening book. Hoeppe's book works through humanity's understanding of the phenomenon of the blue sky by advancing chronologically....[The] attention to detail, the thoroughness of his review and the vibrant style of writing (even though a translation) make this book worthwhile reading.
— Mark Mortimer
Choice
This wonderful, discursive book begins with a child's common question and proceeds to provide and interdisciplinary answer with historical perspective and insight...[Hoeppe] enhances the very perception of both the immediate and farthest reaches of the universe.
— N. Sadanand
European Legacy
Why the Sky Is Blue is popular science at its best. In fact, it is considerably more than that: in ten chapters, an epilogue, several appendices, notes, and a bibliography of further reading, the book provides a broad overview since classical antiquity of how scholars have grappled with explanations for the intriguing blue color of the sky above us all. As it turns out, the simple question, why the sky is blue, requires a veritable tour de force through western cultural history and the history of science for a complete and satisfactory answer.
— Hans J. Rindisbacher
Cosmos Magazine
The subject of this book is interesting enough in its own right, but equally importantly, it is an informative case study of the ways that human thinking has progressed in our attempts to understand the world in which we live.
— David Kay
Lunar & Planetary Information Bulletin
Why the Sky Is Blue answers an ancient and surprisingly complex question in an entertaining and accessible way.
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Overall, I found the book to be very well written and translated, well illustrated, and an easy and quite enjoyable read. The author makes use of a number of stories to enhance the subject matter that will make this a very useful textbook for those teaching high school or lower-division undergraduate level courses on the subjects of optics, atmospheric science, and history of science. Noting that there are few books that are currently available on the subject that deal with this historical perspective, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.
— Jeffrey S. Gaffney
Maui News
This book could as easily have been titled 'Is the Sky Blue?' And the answer to that is yes and no.... One of the interesting things about Why the Sky is Blue is that as a German, Hoeppe spreads credit for the development of physics farther east than most popular scientific histories in English do. He also presents a number of phenomena that readers can try out in their backyards.
— Harry Eagar
Die Welt
Praise for the original German edition: "In this richly illustrated volume, the author describes and explains the color and appearance of the firmament, from earlier times to the current day. It is an exciting excursion from mythology, art, and philosophy up through modern science.
European Legacy
Why the Sky Is Blue is popular science at its best. In fact, it is considerably more than that: in ten chapters, an epilogue, several appendices, notes, and a bibliography of further reading, the book provides a broad overview since classical antiquity of how scholars have grappled with explanations for the intriguing blue color of the sky above us all. As it turns out, the simple question, why the sky is blue, requires a veritable tour de force through western cultural history and the history of science for a complete and satisfactory answer.
— Hans J. Rindisbacher
Saarlandischer Rundfunk
Praise for the original German edition: "Hoeppe has succeeded in something completely special: the book combines the research of the natural sciences with philosophical and cultural reflections—all elegantly expressed.
Lunar & Planetary Information Bulletin
Why the Sky Is Blue answers an ancient and surprisingly complex question in an entertaining and accessible way.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691124537
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/19/2007
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 955,658
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gotz Hoeppe is an editor of the popular German science magazine "Spektrum der Wissenschaft" and a lecturer in social anthropology at Heidelberg University. He is the author of "Conversations on the Beach: Fishermen's Knowledge, Metaphor and Environmental Change in South India".

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations ix
List of Tables xvii
Acknowledgments xix
Prologue: Looking at the Sky 1
Chapter 1: Of Philosophers and the Color Blue 9
Chapter 2: A Blue Mixture: Light and Darkness 31
Chapter 3: Aerial Perspective 52
Chapter 4: A Color of the First Order 77
Chapter 5: Basic Phenomenon, or Optical Illusion? 108
Chapter 6: A Polarized Sky 131
Chapter 7: Lord Rayleigh's Scattering 169
Chapter 8: Molecular Reality 203
Chapter 9: Ozone's Blue Hour 235
Chapter 10: The Color of Life 261
Epilogue 289
Appendix A: Determining the Height of the Atmosphere from the Duration of Twilight 291
Appendix B: Blue Eyes as Turbid Media 293
Appendix C: A Simple Derivation of the Inverse Fourth Power Law 295
Appendix D: Atmospheric Extinction and Avogadro's Number 297
Notes 299
Further Reading 311
Index 325
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