My regular readers well know that I have a fascination with various natural optical phenomena, particularly those of the atmosphere. The first book devoted to the subject I ever read was Marcel G.J. Minnaert's The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air published by Dover Books in 1954 (and still available). Although I have read several other books on the topic since then, none grabbed me more than Color and Light in Nature written by astronomers David K. Lynch and William Livingston and published by Cambridge University Press in 1995.
The similarity between the two titles is no accident. Lynch and Livingston were also inspired by Minnaert's work. In the "Preface" to Color and Light in Nature, they state: "By the time we met in the early 1970s, our dog-earred copies of Minnaert's The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air were faithful companions....Our title...is a clumsy but heart-felt parsing of his title."
Whenever I have been asked about atmospheric optical phenomena, I usually refer the questioner to Color and Light in Nature for further information, because the book is the perfect combination of textual explanation and graphics, enhanced by actual photographs for a lay audience. The book graces my list of "Weather Classics." But alas, the book went out of print a few years ago and all I could do was recommend finding a copy in the library. I was thus overjoyed -- to say the least -- when I saw Color and Light in Nature that a reprint of the second edition is now available from the authors..
If it is possible, the second edition of Color and Light in Nature is even better than the first, as an additional 50 colour images have been added. And while I did not compare the two texts word for word, the authors have added several new text boxes describing ways in which the readers can enhance their viewing experience. Also, a new chapter has been included: "Exotic Clouds." Unlike the other chapters, it is sparse in description and explanation, but it presents 16 striking photographs of unusual cloud formations simply for the joy and beauty.
The seven other chapters present the elements of natural light and colour under the divisions of:
"Observing" looks briefly into the nature of human vision and discusses some tools and techniques for observing the phenomena described in earlier chapters. Of the remaining six, five primarily ask you to raise your eyes skyward. The lone exception "Water and light" suggests looking below the horizon at the interaction between surface water and natural light.
The authors treat their topics descriptively in easily understood terms but do not shy away from using physical and geometric concepts that are required to explain some phenomena, for example, the various forms of haloes and rainbows.
The diagrams and photographs enhance their explanations and are clear and large enough for the reader to understand the "why" behind many optical phenomena and see the detail in the photographs. The only place where I felt the authors' explanation stumbled slightly was in the discussion of the earth shadow and antitwilight arch. Here, the text describes the subject for the sunset situation while the time-sequence montage on the following page shows the same conditions prior to sunrise.
Color and Light in Nature by David K. Lynch and William Livingston would make an excellent field guide to atmospheric and natural light and colour phenomena but for its size (9.85 x 9.83 inches) being too bulky for a pocket or small backpack. I know, however, I will keep my old copy near to my balcony window to assist me in watching for interesting sky events, many of which I would not have thought to look for prior to reading this book. Lynch and Livingston have even made the seemingly mundane event of a cloudless sunset (or sunrise) a new time for sky exploration.
I have been recommending Color and Light in Nature by David K. Lynch and William Livingston to others for some time. Now, I can encourage you all to buy a copy, it is a must book for any science, nature or weather library. I hope this book remains in print for decades to come.
And when you have purchased your copy, follow the authors' advice: "Now it's up to you. Go outside, read the book and enjoy the light." To which I add: YES!
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
8 March 2002, revised March 2011