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Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon

Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon

by Jeff Hecht
Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon

Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon

by Jeff Hecht


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The whole story of laser weapons with a focus on its many interesting characters and sometimes bizarre schemes The laser—a milestone invention of the mid-twentieth century—quickly captured the imagination of the Pentagon as the key to the ultimate weapon. Veteran science writer Jeff Hecht tells the inside story of the adventures and misadventures of scientists and military strategists as they exerted Herculean though often futile efforts to adapt the laser for military uses. From the 1950s' sci-fi vision of the "death ray," through the Reagan administration's "Star Wars" missile defense system, to more promising developments today, Hecht provides an entertaining history. As the author illustrates, there has always been a great deal of enthusiasm and false starts surrounding lasers. He describes a giant laser that filled a Boeing 747, lasers powered like rocket engines, plans for an orbiting fleet of robotic laser battle stations to destroy nuclear missiles, claims that nuclear bombs could produce intense X-ray laser beams, and a scheme to bounce laser beams off giant orbiting relay mirrors. Those far-out ideas remain science fiction. Meanwhile, in civilian sectors, the laser is already being successfully used in fiber optic cables, scanners, medical devices, and industrial cutting tools. Now those laser cutting tools are leading to a new generation of laser weapons that just might stop insurgent rockets. Replete with interesting characters, bizarre schemes, and wonderful inventions, this is a well-told tale about the evolution of technology and the reaches of human ambition.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633884601
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 01/08/2019
Pages: 303
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jeff Hecht is an award-winning freelance science and technology writer, a longtime contributor to New Scientist magazine, a contributing editor of Laser Focus World magazine, and the author of thirteen books, including Introduction to Laser Technology, 4th ed. (with Breck Hitz and J. J. Ewing); Understanding Lasers, 4th ed.; Understanding Fiber Optics, 5th ed.; Beam: The Race to Make the Laser; City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics; and Laser Pioneers. He has also published articles in Nature, IEEE Spectrum, Sky & Telescope, and other publications. He is a fellow of the Optical Society of America and a life senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

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Excerpted from "Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Jeff Hecht.
Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Death Rays: From Thunder Gods to Mad Scientists 7

Chapter 2 How the Pentagon Almost Invented the Laser 39

Chapter 3 The Incredible Rocket-Engine Laser 69

Chapter 4 Space Lasers on the High Frontier 103

Chapter 5 The "Star Wars" Wars 131

Chapter 6 The Airborne Laser Gets off the Ground 161

Chapter 7 Back to the Battlefield against Insurgents 187

Chapter 8 Laser Weapons Go Solid-State 201

Chapter 9 The Quest for the Ultimate Weapon 221

Acknowledgments 241

Notes 245

Index 281

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