Books by Jeff Hecht

Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long, Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon. Available from

 2019 (ISBN 9781633884601)

Lasers, Death Rays tells the story of the quest for energy weapons, from the ancients who armed their gods with lightning bolts to modern military forces building high-energy lasers to zap rockets and other weapons fired by insurgents. That quest has been a long, strange trip. In the early 20th century, inventors from Harry Grindell "Death Ray" Matthews to Nikola Tesla tried to build wireless radio or electrical weapons to protect cities from aerial bombing. In the last half of the 20th century, armies sought high-energy lasers to defend against nuclear missile attacks. Both brought misadventures, and neither made the grade. Now armies are scaling up a new type lasers used for industrial cutting and welding to shoot down drones, rockets, small boats and other insurgent weapons. So far, their results are looking good. 

More details on my Lasers, Death Rays page. Copies available from Amazon,  Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers. 

Understanding Lasers: An Entry-Level Guide 4th ed. Available from  IEEE Press/John Wiley & Sons 2019 (ISBN 978-1-119-31064-8). 

This is the fourth edition of an introduction to lasers and related optical technology, richly illustrated and with little mathematics. It has been expanded and extensively updated to describe the state of the art in solid-state and semiconductor lasers, and a wide range of new laser applications.  You can find more details on a separate page devoted to Understanding Lasers. Copies available direct from Wiley, from Amazon, and from other fine booksellers. 

Understanding Fiber Optics 5th ed

The latest (2006) ediiton of my standard introductory text on fiber optics. Over 100,000 copies have been sold since the first edition was published in 1987. The book has been widely used in technician training, and is filled with diagrams and illustrations explaining the operation of optical fibers, lasers, transmitters, cables, receivers, splices, connectors and other components. It also covers test equipment, and fiber applications in telecommunication systems. I am planning a new edition.

Copies of a PDF electronic version are available from for $9.95. A print-on-demand paperback edition is available direct from, or other online sources for $39.00 More information is available on my Understanding Fiber Optics page.

Introduction to Laser Technology 4th ed 

Breck Hitz, J. J. Ewing and Jeff Hecht Wiley/IEEE Press 2012 (ISBN 978-0-470-91620-9). A textbook on laser technology for technicians and engineers which I collaborated in writing with Breck Hitz and J. J. Ewing. This is based on a short course that Breck Hitz has presented widely.   You can find more details on a separate page devoted to Introduction to Laser Technology.


Beam: The Race to Make the Laser 

Oxford University Press, New York, 2005. The fascinating story of one of the 20th century's most celebrated and surprising inventions. It began with an idea of Albert Einstein's taken in a new direction by Charles Townes on a Washington park bench one morning in 1951. It continues through the demonstration of the first laser in Malibu, California, and a surprisingly difficult aftermath.  Available in Paperback $31.95 ISBN 9780199738717, or Hardcover $65.00 ISBN: 9780195142105 from Oxford University Press. Amazon has print versions plus a Kindle ebook editionI have signed copies available for $24 in the US. You can read more about the book on my Beam page.


City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics

Oxford University Press, New York, March 1999. (ISBN 0-19-510818-3) A book in the Sloan Foundation Technology series. The idea of light guiding was born as an eye-catching physics demonstration and became a centerpiece of the great Victorian exhibitions. It gave birth to live-saving fiber-optic medical imaging in the 1950s, and in the 1960s to the Nobel-winning technology of fiber-optic communications that provides the backbone of the Internet. For more on the book, see my City of Light page. See my fiber-optic chronology and short overview of fiber history. For near-immediate gratification you can order,City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics (Sloan Technology Series) from The revised trade paperback edition (ISBN 0-19-516255-2) includes a new chapter on the millennial fiber-optic boom, bubble, the bust is also available - order City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics (Sloan Technology Series) from 


Optics: Light for a New Age

Originally published by Scribners in 1988  (Young Adult). An introduction to optics, light, and lasers for middle school and high school age students. This was given an honorable mention from the New York Academy of Sciences for best science book for readers in its ago group when it was published. Much of it is still a good introduction to optics, but parts are dated. To make it accessible to schools, libraries and young readers, I have made a PDF version available for free from  Paper copies are available for $12.99 from, along with a $2.99 print-replica edition for Kindle. A PDF version also is available through Google Books for $2.99.

Beam Weapons: Roots of Reagan's 'Star Wars'

Back in 1984, I wrote the first book detailing development of high-energy lasers and other directed-energy weapons. Originally titled Beam Weapons: The Next Arms Race, it focused on Ronald Reagan's plans to build a massive high-tech system for defense against nuclear missiles, but also covered other attempts to develop beam weapons for use on the ground, in the air, at sea, or in space, including against satellites. The topic was an important one, and the book was reviewed by the New York Times. This new edition from Laser Light Press includes a brief epilogue on the past 30 years of development in directed-energy weapons. Beam Weapons: Roots of Reagan's 'Star Wars' is available from both as a print-on-demand edition and in a Kindle edition. A PDF edition is available from Payhip for $3.99. A $3.99 ePub edition is available from Smashwords, Apple iTunes, and other digital stores. A PDF version of the original is available from Google Books

The Laser Guidebook 2nd ed.

McGraw-Hill, New York, 1992 (ISBN 0-8306-4274-9). This is a practical guide to commercial laser technology, written for engineers who need to work with lasers. It reviews all major types of commercial lasers that were available at the time of publication in 1992, with details on their typical performance. It definitely needs updating, but it can be a useful starting point.  You can order The Laser Guidebook (Optical and Electro-Optical Engineering Series) in paper or ebook format from

Laser Pioneers  Academic Press , 1991 (ISBN 0-12-336030-7). 

A history of the early development of lasers, including a 60-page overview of laser history with extensive references, and interviews with the laser pioneers who developed major types of lasers in wide use. Interviews include Nobel Laureates Charles Townes, Arthur Schawlow, and Nicolaas Bloembergen. Also interviewed was Gordon Gould, whose laser patents earned him millions of dollars and election to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.  Laser Pioneers is available from

Shifting Shores: Rising Seas, Retreating Coastlines Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990

Shifting Shores1-COVER

This young adult book warned about the problems posed by rising seas, coastal erosion and the loss of wetlands 15 years before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. This book is old, but coastal erosion remains a major environmental problem that will get much worse as rising temperatures continue to melt glaciers and warm the seas so they expand. To help increase awareness of this imporant issue I am offering PDF copies free from Payhip. The book is out of print, but I have remaindered copies available for $4.50 to cover postage and handling which you can order through the Paypal link below. 

Supertool cover Smaller

Laser: Supertool of the 1980s, by Jeff Hecht and Dick Teresi, originally published by Ticknor & Fields 1982, paper 1984. Later republished by Dover in 1998 as Laser: Light of a Million Uses, available from Amazon.

This is a vintage laser book -- a pop-science account of what laser technology was neat and new as of 1981 when it was written. At this point, it's mostly of interest as a time capsule to today's generation of laser scientists and engineers, showing the state of the art in 1981 and how we expected the future to be. Needless to say, there have been plenty of surprises. I have signed copies the trade paperback edition available for $5.50 each including postage and handling only in the United States. Please specify inscription and edition preference below.

Select edition and inscription

Vanishing Life: The Mystery of Mass Extinctions

Charles Scribner's Sons/Atheneum, 1993, (ISBN 0-684 19331-0) (young adult). Tells about the five greatest extinctions that wiped out many species on land and in the sea, forever changing the Earth. Vanishing Life: The Mystery of Mass Extinctions is available from .


Book That May Appear Someday:  The Ages of Earth

In the 1990s I wrote a wonderful book with geologist Chris Scotese that was a history of the Earth for the general reader, amply illustrated with plate tectonic maps showing the changing continents, and pictures of the evolving life of our planet. Sadly, it was caught in two disastrous publishing misadventures that made it impossible to publish at the time. Chris is now trying to put the pieces together and republish it for all to enjoy.  To see his maps of the Earth at various times in the past, visit the Paleomap site.

Book I Didn't Write

I am not the author of the widely used "Hecht" Optics (5th Edition) college textbook. That excellent text was written by Eugene Hecht, whom as far as I know is not related. I highly recommend it for the serious student of optics who isn't afraid of math; click on the link to take you to the page for it.

If you have trouble finding any of my books, please e-mail me at [my first name] AT Publishers often don't tell authors if books go out of stock.

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© Jeff Hecht 2019