"QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter", Richard P. Feynman.
For many years I had heard about this book, but the title always seemed so far above me that I never even looked at the actual book.
That was a big mistake.
The book is basically an edited recap of four lectures that Feynman prepared and presented for a general public audience, to explain the essential intuitions behind Quantum ElectroDynamics (QED).
Just as a teaser, it covers such interesting aspects as...
- Light doesn't really reflect off the surface of glass. That's just the aggregate effect of a bunch of scattering off individual electrons within the body of the glass. It seems like off the surfaces because, from a distance, lots of things cancel out to make it look that way.
- That bit about "from a distance" is important. Close to the body of the glass, there are a lot of non-canceling effects that end up resulting in spatial variations that can be far smaller than the diffraction limit based on photon energy (wavelength). This is what enables near field super-resolution phenomena such as are exploited in the new microscopy technique referenced at "Special slide + reconstruction algorithm = super resolution microscopy".
- "Total internal reflection" isn't really totally internal. This is addressed in a different way by Wikipedia, but somehow the Wikipedia explanation makes a lot more sense to me after reading Feynman's explanation (and the recent series mentioned at "The Curious Observer's Guide to Quantum Mechanics").
- "Isn't it wonderful -- you can take a piece of mirror where you didn't expect any reflection, scrape away part of it, and it reflects!" (Feynman himself, quoted from pages 46-47, regarding diffraction gratings.)
I should have read this decades ago!