book reviews

Electromagnetic Radiation Books

High-Energy Astrophysics
Fulvio Melia
Princeton, 2009

A strophysicists have calculated that a marshmallow dropped onto the surface of a neutron star would release as much energy as a medium-sized nuclear bomb. The amount of energy released per marshmallow is ten times that released by nuclear fusion of an equivalent mass of hydrogen. This marshmallowmageddon scenario is typical of the scale of the processes that occur in space—processes that occur on an almost unimaginable scale, creating subatomic particles with almost as much energy as a thrown baseball.

This book gets off to a fair start, but unfortunately adopts the annoying fad of gratuitously rearranging sentences in order to insert political shes and hers everywhere. This couldn't have been easy, especially in the math-heavy chapter on general relativity. Anyway, it's poor writing style, and it makes the book very difficult to read. Even writers of technical books need to pay attention to basic stylistic issues to avoid alienating readers who care about the English language.

Using she and her as gender-indeterminate pronouns is now considered to look parochial, outdated and unprofessional; using he and she and they (which is used in more informal writing) has become the accepted norm.

jul 01, 2012

High-Energy Astrophysics, 3rd ed
Malcom S. Longair
Cambridge, 2011

I n addition to being a little more recent, this one is a well-written and beautifully published book on the subject, with high-quality graphs and even a few color photos. The coverage is not as tightly focused on high energy phenomena as Melia's book, and the discussions of radio, optical, and infrared astronomy contribute to the book's larger size (861 pages). This book is in four sections: Astronomy background, Physical processes, Galactic high energy astrophysics, and Extragalactic high energy astrophysics.

This one has several typos, some of which are highly amusing.

feb 10, 2014

The Observation and Analysis of Stellar Photospheres, 3rd ed
David F. Gray
Cambridge, 2005


T he biggest investment in astronomical spectroscopy isn't the equipment. It's the requirement for background knowledge of stellar astrophysics that the astronomer must have in order to collect meaningful data. After a brief refresher on statistical thermodynamics and atomic spectroscopy (with the clearest explanation of Fourier transforms I have ever seen), this book describes gratings and detectors and radiative transfer. The main part of the book is a thorough description of stellar astrophysics. There is also a section on chemical analysis.

Although possibly a little too abstract for the casual reader, this is an outstanding textbook on theoretical aspects of the subject. The derivations are clear enough that even a non-physicist can use it for self-study. This book will provide a solid background for tackling more specialized texts.

Has many graphs, tables, and equations, and a few grayscale figures. A minimum background in undergraduate physics is recommended. In addition to this book, you will need a photometric atlas (and some equipment) if you want to make actual measurements.

mar 03, 2012

Elements of Modern X-Ray Physics
J. Als-Nielsen and D. McMorrow
Wiley, 2001

F ourth-year undergraduate / professional textbook on the physics of X-ray radiation. Does not cover X-ray imaging. Beautifully typeset and printed on high quality paper, with color graphs and diagrams throughout. The “more taxing” mathematical derivations are set off in boxes or in the appendix. The appendixes also have short Matlab program listings for calculating undulator characteristics.

[Not finished]