A Short, Bright Flash

A Short, Bright Flash

Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse

Book - 2013 | 1st ed.
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Describes the life of the man who invented a new lighthouse lens, capable of shining brighter, farther, and more efficiently than existing light sources, and his fight against the scientific elite, his poor health, and the limits of his era's technology.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2013], ©2013.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780393068795
Branch Call Number: 623.8942 LEVIT
Characteristics: 281 p. : ill., maps ; 22 cm


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Jun 13, 2019

This is a brilliant book, pun intended, that tells the story of a young genius in physics and engineering who came up with an idea, a new theory, and then put into practice a life-saving device that transformed commerce.
Sailing has always been dangerous, but as this book points out, sailors were more afraid of the shore and its rocks and shoals than the open sea.
Augustin-Jean Fresnel might be thought of as the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the late 1700s and early 1800s.
His Fresnel lens transformed the dim oil lamps and reflectors of early lighthouses and turned them into beacons that protected sailors and the trade goods they carried.
It's also a lesson about America, and how the boast that we had the best lighthouse system in the world was a deadly fiction. French engineering and manufacturing made the difference, and it took far too long for us to get past the bureaucratic bean counting (yes, the head of the lighthouse operation for the country was an accountant more interested in reducing expenditures for lamp oil than in saving lives).
Eventually, the engineers and scientists in the military got to update the technology, and it made all the difference.
One other interesting bit about the book. It's printed on paper that's nicer than anything I've seen in a book in a long time. A pleasure to hold and read.

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