Book Review
Under the microscope: A brief history of microscopy.
by William J Croft

review by David Walker, UK

    Under the microscope: A brief history of microscopy.
    by William J Croft, Harvard Univ, USA.
    Published 2006. ISBN 981-02-3781-2
    World Scientific Publishing Pte. Ltd, Singapore.
    Hardback, 152 pages, ca. 9 x 6
    Typical UK street price e.g. on
    Amazon is 19.14 and 22 / $38 direct from the publishers. 

 Front cover scan and pages below shown with the kind permission of the publishers.


Micscape was kindly offered a copy of this book for review by the publisher. David Walker, an amateur microscopist, reviews it below.


From the flyleaf this is the fifth volume in the publisher's Series in Popular Science; earlier titles include both broad topics such as A brief history of light and those that led the way by R. J. Weiss (Vol. 1) and more specialist themes such as Science of percussion instruments by T. D. Rossing (Vol. 3). The publisher's website gives details of the other books in the series. The cover of the latest volume is illustrated with a toy microscope, perhaps to reflect the 'popular science' theme.

The publisher's synopsis of the book notes that the intended readership is 'science undergraduates and general readers'. The 152 page book is a hardback, is well bound, uses high quality paper and printing with a large very readable font. The book is well illustrated, primarily in black and white, with explanatory diagrams of some key concepts, microscope schematics and photomicrographs with a few colour examples. Two page examples are shown below. Unfortunately, the number of typographical errors in the book seems rather high, some creating factual errors (see footnote).

Above: Page 32 showing a typical schematic. Other schematics of microscopes in the book are of the SEM, TEM and key aspects of the scanning tunneling microscope, scanning acoustic microscope and an electron probe microanalysis system.

Above: Page 80 from the chapter on the SEM. The book shows illustrated examples for each of the techniques discussed.

It seems a somewhat daunting task even for a 'brief history of microscopy' to be covered fully in the quite slim volumes of this 'Popular Science' book series, and perhaps the author hints this with the remark in the foreword that the history is 'traced' in 'a non-rigorous way'. The author has to be congratulated for being so brave, as 'microscopy' would presumably have to cover both aspects of key hardware developments and the microscopists associated with them. The author does adopt this approach for topics chosen and as can be seen from the chapter headings below, the topics discussed are selective from the development of optical microscopy techniques with 'non-optical' techniques being given more extensive treatment.

The chapters:

Thus the polarising microscope and underlying concepts are quite extensively and effectively discussed over two chapters and 'reflected light microscopy' in another; the latter chapter includes an interesting summary of the work of Sorby. The history and applications of other light microscopy techniques e.g. phase and other interference contrast methods like DIC, fluorescence, low power stereo are not covered.

The second and larger part of the book presents a concise and fascinating overview of the development of the modern 'non-optical' techniques and typical applications. Schematics of the microscopes discussed are presented with the electron microprobe and scanning tunneling techniques also having photographs of a typical system. The book is perhaps most suitable to the general reader looking for an overview of these types of techniques because, as remarked, the development of optical techniques are more selectively covered.

Comments to the reviewer David Walker are welcomed.

Footnote: The twenty five plus typographical errors include:
Page 33: three instances of 'operture' instead of 'aperture'.
Page 67: 'mm' (millimeters) has been used twice instead of 'nm' (nanometers).
Page 20: where '1949' should read '1849' in a discussion of the work of Sorby who died in 1908.
In Chapter 9 on the SEM there seems to be contradictory statements on back scattered electron production; p79. 'they are not produced in very large numbers ...', p.81 'they are produced in large numbers ...'.

Acknowledgement: Thank you to World Scientific Publishing for kindly offering and arranging the review copy and for the image permissions.





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