""A fun read through 2,200 years of history of directed-energy weapons and their progenitors, from Archimedes to Edward Teller. With laser weapons at last moving toward the battlefield, it couldn’t be timelier.” —Robert Zubrin, author of The Case for Space and president of Pioneer Astronautics “The first human ancestor who had to squint looking at the sun knew the power of light, and human nature being what it is, weaponizing light was only a matter of time. Now, in Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon, Jeff Hecht brings together the tales of the warriors and science fiction writers who have imagined versions of that weapon, and the inventors and scientists who have tried to make it a reality. Nobody knows more about laser history than Hecht, and his latest is a fine, entertaining addition to the field. Reading it will keep Darth Vader and the Jedi up at night, looking for new tweaks to their lightsabers.” —Nick Taylor is the author of LASER: The Inventor, the Nobel Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War “Hecht’s book is undoubtedly the most comprehensive documentation of the history of death rays from the first glimmers of fiction until the very latest results. He captures everything on the subject, including the wildest dreams, the frauds, and the outstanding achievements of science and engineering. This book is for any serious laser researcher and developer, as well as those interested in the history of how science, invention, and engineering have always been pursued in the quest for the ultimate weapon.” —Gerold Yonas, author of Death Rays and Delusions and former chief scientist of the Strategic Defense Initiative “Few humans know laser technology better than Jeff Hecht, who tells the story with zest, from the thunderbolts of Zeus to the slicing rays of science fiction. We’ve long anticipated what is arriving right now. For better or worse, we should know how these godlike tools came into our hands and what they can do.” —David Brin, author of Existence, The Postman, and The Transparent Society “Who can resist a book about death rays? Jeff Hecht’s long-overdue work is more than that, however. This book is a look at energy weapons from their earliest origins, to current applications, to a peek into their assured future. It is a rare combination of thorough research and engaging, entertaining narrative that will keep you reading to the end. This book deserves a place on the bookshelf of any enthusiast of science fiction, science tech, and. .. death rays!” —Rod Pyle, author of Interplanetary Robots, journalist, and senior editor of Ad Astra magazine “The most complete, compelling history of the US government’s quest to develop the ultimate laser weapon, a ‘death ray,’ able to destroy nuclear-tipped cruise and ballistic missiles. Hecht skillfully reveals the science and politics surrounding the laser’s development as a weapon. In doing so, he reveals a basic truth: politics, as well as science, plays a critical role in the development of high-tech weapons. I strongly recommend this book to anyone seeking insight into the inner workings of our military-industrial complex, as well as the current state of laser weapons.” —Louis A. Del Monte, bestselling author of Genius Weapons, Nanoweapons, and The Artificial Intelligence Revolution “Lasers are awesome, especially big ones. Hecht gives this topic its rightful due by deftly weaving together thrilling history and fascinating physics.” —Paul M. Sutter, astrophysicist and author of Your Place in the Universe “Few humans know laser technology better than Jeff Hecht, who tells the story with zest, from the thunderbolts of Zeus to the slicing rays of science fiction. We’ve long anticipated what is arriving right now. For better or worse, we should know how these godlike tools came into our hands and what they can do.” —David Brin, author of Existence, The Postman, and The Transparent Society “
A veteran science and technology writer delivers an insider's account of the military's obsession with laser weapons.
First, New Scientist contributor Hecht (Beam: The Race to Make the Laser, 2005, etc.), the author of multiple scholarly books on lasers, delivers an amusing account of fictional death rays from Archimedes to Tesla to Hollywood. All of these are "updated versions of the mythic bolts hurled by mythic ancient gods, born more than a century ago…when scientists were puzzling over new discoveries from X-rays to radio waves, inventors were seeking new weapons of war, and storytellers were looking for thrilling new ways to entertain." In 1960, a properly stimulated ruby emitted the first tiny laser beam. The author explains that when a light photon stimulates an atom's electron to jump to a more energetic level and then fall back, it produces an identical photon. With repeated stimulation, massively amplified by mirrors, this light can swell to an intense, narrow beam that carries a great deal of energy. Of course, LASER is an acronym: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A torrent of civilian applications followed the initial discovery, and the military began to pay attention. Hecht reminds readers that, struck by a laser beam, a target does not conveniently explode but rather gets hotter. Industrial lasers burn holes in metal held immobile a few inches away. Generating a beam capable of hitting, following, and destroying a speeding rocket hundreds of miles distant seems wacky, but readers may recall that this was the "Star Wars" anti-missile system launched by Ronald Reagan in 1983 and officially abandoned in 1993. All was not lost, however. Wildly expensive research produced technical advances, and lasers continue to grow more powerful, efficient, and compact. Now in field testing, powerful beams have destroyed small boats, shot down drones, and punched holes in vehicles.
An occasionally choppy but intriguing and informative history of laser weapons.