Short works

Books : reviews

Charles H. Townes.
How the Laser Happened: adventures of a scientist.
OUP. 1999

In this memoir, Nobel laureate Charles Townes traces his multifaceted career across decades of ground-breaking research. Townes was co-inventor of the maser (a forerunner of the laser), an originator of spectroscopy using microwaves, and a pioneer in the study of gas clouds in galaxies and around stars. Here he provides a hands-on description of how working scientists and inventors get their ideas. He also shows how scientists respond to new ideas and how they approach a variety of issues, from priority and patents to the social and political implications of their work. In addition, Townes touches on the sociology of science, uncovering some of the traditions and values that are invisible to an outsider.

This lively memoir, packed with first-hand accounts and historical anecdotes, is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the history of science and an inspiring example for students considering scientific careers.