An occasionally choppy but intriguing and informative history of laser weapons.


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.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63388-460-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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