Publishing in the field of quantum optics reminds me of buses in one respect. Before October 2004, there were apparently no textbooks aimed at undergraduates, and now three have come along almost simultaneously. There the resemblance ends: quantum optics is not for the faint-hearted - even these introductory texts are aimed at postgraduates or final-year undergraduates.
The problem with quantum mechanics and hence quantum optics is that at first glance it is very scary. If you do not persevere, none of the subject's beauty and clarity emerges. A textbook on quantum optics, especially at introductory level, must keep a tight grip on readers' interest and help them through difficult concepts. So how do these three authors accomplish this?
Christopher Gerry and Peter Knight's Introductory Quantum Optics was the first on the scene and is the longest of the three. It was developed from courses taught at Imperial College London and City University New York. It is logically set out, well written and aimed at the physics market.
The equations come thick and fast, but the book is well argued throughout and subject applications are explained beautifully. It offers a comprehensive, cogent view, but for an introductory text, it seems a little too keen to get on to exciting stuff such as quantum teleportation. When you get there, however, it is well worth it.
Vlatko Vedral's Modern Foundations of Quantum Optics is also aimed at the physics market and was developed from the lecture course Vedral took over from Knight at Imperial. It is beautifully laid out and written in a manner that makes one just want to go on reading. The footnotes are a joy - they offer wonderful insights, additional information, alternative scenarios for visualising the material and sometimes humorous comments. This book tingles with excitement from start to finish, covering breakthroughs, Nobel prizes and potential future applications. It is my favourite of the three; it was written to inspire, and that is just what it does.
The third and most recent title, Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics for Solid State Electronics and Optics , by C. L. Tang of Cornell University is aimed more at the electronic engineering market and pitched at final-year undergraduates and postgraduates. Like the other two books, it is well laid out and reads well, but it lacks their sparkle. It offers a more detailed treatment of classical quantum mechanics, but the applications section is rather mundane. It is very much a set text and a book you would have to work at - but perhaps that is what an introductory text should demand.
These three very different books will, I suspect, appeal to different people and disciplines. For my money, Vedral's book is definitely the one for the desert island, with or without the facilities for teleportation.
Karen J. Kirkby is reader in electronic engineering, Surrey University.
Introductory Quantum Optics. First edition
Author - Christopher C. Gerry and Peter L. Knight
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 317
Price - £60.00 and £30.00
ISBN - 0 521 82035 9 and 535 X