In the contentious arena of laser history, there is one achievement that no one disputes. Theodore Maiman of Hughes Aircraft made the first working laser. This book contains a very personal account of how he did it. Maiman used a ruby cylinder and a flashlamp to make a pulsed laser. It was "easy" to do this in 1960 in the same sense that it would have been easy to make a tinfoil phonograph in 1877, provided only that Edison showed you how. After Maiman's breakthrough other physicists (especially those associated with maser development) implied they had published or communicated information sufficient to make the pulsed ruby solution obvious. To that Maiman replied roughly as follows: "Everyone knows there was an all-out race to make the first laser. If it was so obvious, why didn't you build it?" During his career Maiman became acutely conscious of the dismissive attitude sometimes exhibited by academic scientists toward industrial scientists. He was in a special position to observe such prejudice because he made a major scientific advance while employed by an aerospace company. The maser, on the other hand, had come from Charles Townes and his university/Bell Labs background. Although not a source of visible light, the maser was a coherent microwave amplifier widely promoted as the device that would naturally be "extended" to make a laser (Maiman's contrary views on this point are very interesting). When Maiman succeeded there seemed to be an implicit feeling in academia that the achievement came from the wrong side of the tracks and was therefore somehow illegitimate. Perhaps the earliest clear hint of such a feeling surfaced when the editors of Physical Review rejected Maiman's paper describing the world's first successful laser! The excuse that Hughes had already announced only seemed to underline the journal's anti-industry bias. Although it is centered on laser technology, Maiman's book is really an autobiography. We learn about his childhood and education, his mentors, and an early project in which, somewhat ironically, he greatly improved the design of a maser. In contemplating his place in history, he is very frank about what he sees as injustices. He usually has good reasons for complaining and generously praises those he admires. Clearly Maiman has enjoyed the honors and awards that have come to him, since he describes them at some length. I had a bit of trouble getting used to his writing style, particularly the placement of commas, but that reduces not at all my enthusiastic recommendation of "Laser Odyssey."
Theodore Maiman designed and demonstrated the world's first laser. Some sources try to diminish him as an inventor stating that he made the first "working laser". This is a result of efforts of some laser scientists who would like to convey that more important in laser development than Maiman's work was a paper published in the December 1958 issue of Physical Review by C. Townes and A. Shawlow (a proposal for an infrared potassium laser). But the irony is that nobody succeeded in building a potassium laser, while Theodor Maiman built a laser on May 16 of 1960 based on the use of ruby, a crystal discarded as unsuitable for laser by other scientists. In addition, Maiman succeeded with an operating budget of fifty thousands dollars while various universities used millions of dollars for their laser research.
The Laser Odyssey introduces the reader to Maiman's difficult journey to build the laser and to the world of politics and intrigue in the post - laser period. The book, written by Theodore Maiman, gives a detailed analysis of the development of the first laser. It is a fascinating book for a physicist or a lover of science although written for the general reader.