Overview of the best photonics books: 2024 update

If you are looking for information about photonics, you have many resources at your disposal.

You have tweets, articles, blog posts (like this one), brochures, flyers, whitepapers, videos, and of course books.

From among the resources listed above books remain the primary source of what I call “first principles” knowledge of photonics.

Photonics is a progressive discipline that is evolving fast. This evolution rests on a solid bedrock of knowledge contained in books.

So it is only natural then to wonder – what is the best photonics book for me? The answer to this important question is of course dependent on who you are.

Broadly speaking, if you are interested in reading a book on photonics, then you fall into one of two main audience groups. You are either someone who is interested in learning about photonics out of sheer curiosity. For example as a hobby, or better still you want to build some knowledge about this field to better understand what the so-called experts are talking about.

The second category of people who actively read photonics books are students (future photonics engineers) and already practicing photonics engineers who want to refresh their knowledge or learn about a new field.

There are several books written on photonics. Each of these photonics books covers one or more aspects of the subject from a particular angle. So it is often tricky to choose the one book or a couple of books that suit your particular interest.

In this report, you will learn about what I deem to be the essential books on photonics for non-engineers as well as aspiring and practicing photonics engineers.

How do I select the books mentioned here?

Before moving further though into talking about specific books, it is important for you to understand how I came about the selection of books presented here.

You are totally justified in wondering, why should I trust this random selection of books from a guy on the internet? What business does he have in selecting books which may or may not be interesting for me?

First off, this report is not a review of the books mentioned here. In my opinion, an honest book review requires that you read the book in question from start to finish. I have not read every book mentioned in this overview.

Rather this overview is a selection of books I find interesting given I studied photonics myself and have some experience working as a photonics engineer. You may find my perspective useful in case you decide to walk the same path I did.

In fact, my hope is that you can use this overview as a starting point for your own search. As I mentioned earlier on, I have only read “chunks” of most of the books I mention in this overview. I use my personal judgment and preferences to choose books that give you a balanced perspective on photonics.

That being said, I organize this overview of photonics books as follows. I start with books focused on popularizing optics & photonics. The books I mention in this section treat deep theoretical concepts in an approachable way without the use of complex mathematics.

The idea here is to popularise optics & photonics and make it more interesting for people who are not necessarily specialists in the field.

You will find books in this category interesting if your background is non-technical or you are technical but in a field other than photonics e.g. you may fall within this audience if you work with photonics engineers but are not an engineer yourself. Technology enthusiasts, project managers, etc also fall into this category.

Next, I introduce you to photonics books that should be of interest to undergraduate students. Here, it is all about setting solid foundations for further studies at the graduate level.

The books contained here cover the whole discipline of photonics. They introduce all important concepts in photonics and briefly treat important sub-fields of the subject.

In the final section, you learn about my picks for photonics books for graduate students, researchers, and engineers. The books in this section are restricted to sub-disciplines of photonics and go into great detail to treat the subject completely.

They are an invaluable resource for building up knowledge and transitioning from student to expert. They are also used by R&D engineers in their daily jobs.

Throughout this report, I make every effort to select books that are more or less popular and available for purchase online. Now, let’s get down to business and start with the first section; photonics books for a wider audience.

Photonics books for a wider audience

There are many reasons why someone without a science/technical background may be interested in reading a book on photonics. You may be a manager who works with photonics engineers and you are interested in learning more about the subject.

You could be a venture capitalist or investor looking to put some money into a photonics start-up or company. In this case, it makes sense to take a crash course on the subject in order to better understand why this company’s technology is a game changer.

Finally, you could also be a hobbyist or just someone with general knowledge who is interested in Photonics. In this case, you probably want to build a solid knowledge base in the subject through self-study.

For this category, I select two books. Optics for dummies and introducing photonics.

Optics for Dummies (the best optics & photonics book for self-study)

I start our list of photonics books appropriate for a wider audience with the book optics for dummies.

Given its title, this is an obvious choice for this category. However, don’t let the title of this book fool you, it has over 360 pages.

Now you may wonder why a book on optics is useful for anyone interested in learning about photonics. The fact of the matter is that optics and photonics are opposite sides of the same coin. Optics deals with more theoretical concepts while photonics is geared toward technological applications of light.

Optics for dummies keeps mathematics and equations to a minimum. It focuses on explaining important concepts about the nature of light in plain English and is hence accessible to basically anyone who can read.

Among other things, it brushes up on optics fundamentals, ray optics, wave optics, optical instruments/systems, as well as advanced optics concepts.

If you don’t have a technical background but you are interested in learning the basics of optics and photonics, this is an excellent book. It is the best book for anyone who wants to self-study about optics and photonics.

Introducing photonics

In case you are after another introductory non-mathematical book on photonics, then “introducing photonics” is a great choice. This book is not as voluminous as optics for dummies – it only has 174 pages.

It is written by prof. Brian Culshaw, an expert in photonics with a 40-year-long track record in the discipline. You will love this book if you want to quickly get a grasp of the main aspects of photonics and understand where it will head to in the future.

The book is subdivided into six main parts. It starts off with a general introduction to photonics. Next, it delves into the peculiar nature of light. This is followed by addressing light interactions with materials and structures respectively.

From here, you will know enough to learn about various applications of photonics. Here a special focus is placed on displays and lighting. The book closes with a perspective on what the future holds for photonics as well as its impact on our lives in the coming years.

Photonics books for (undergraduate) students

After talking about photonics books for a wider audience, it is time to turn our focus to photonics books for science/engineering students. Becoming a photonics engineer is quite a tall order. You need to have a good basis in physics and mathematics in order to take on and graduate from a photonics study program.

Photonics is a specialized advanced discipline that is seldom taught at the bachelor’s level. If you are an undergraduate student, it may be possible to follow an introductory course in photonics after your sophomore year i.e. after you have a solid foundation in physics and mathematics.

The books in this category are also relevant for students studying for a master’s degree in optics and photonics. At this level, it is important to find a book that covers a wide range of topics without going into too much detail.

The intent here is to gain a sufficiently broad basis in photonics, allowing for more advanced/niche roles in the future. There are a couple of books that fit this description. I selected two of them; fundamentals of photonics and elements of photonics.

Fundamentals of photonics (the most complete all-round photonics book)

I start off with a personal favorite – fundamentals of photonics. This is in my opinion the best book on photonics out there. If you could only have one book on photonics as an undergraduate student, then it should be this one.

Fundamentals of photonics is an introductory book on photonics that provides you with a proper basis for the fundamental concepts of the discipline. It gives you a sufficiently broad perspective on photonics without sacrificing the depth of coverage.

This is a book I used extensively during my studies, it was my go-to book when I first got serious about specializing in photonics. I found the format of the book particularly interesting.

Each chapter has a concise summary as well as exercises and problems to help you understand the material better. The book also does a good job of highlighting important equations.

Fundamentals of photonics is ideal for students who may have come from a more theoretical background. It summarizes important points, highlighting the main pieces of information you need to know about the main pillar areas of photonics.

Fundamentals of photonics is organized into 25 chapters covering all main aspects of photonics. The book starts by covering various models for optics including ray optics, wave optics, beam optics, Fourier optics, electromagnetic optics, polarization optics, photonic-crystal optics, metal and metamaterial optics, guided-wave optics, fiber optics, resonator optics, statistical optics, photon optics.

Following this, it proceeds to cover light and matter, laser amplifiers, lasers, semiconductor optics, LEDs and laser diodes, photodetectors, electro-optics, acousto-optics, non-linear optics, ultrafast optics, optical interconnects and switches, and optical fiber communications.

The book closes with appendices on the Fourier transform, linear systems, and the modes of linear systems.

Elements of photonics

Elements of photonics is another excellent introductory photonics book. It is well organized with several practice problems as well as solutions. This makes it particularly well suited to being used as an accompanying text for introductory courses in photonics.

Elements of photonics is a two-volume book. The first volume focuses on photonics in free space and special media. The second volume of the book focuses on photonics in bounded media especially fiber optics and integrated photonics.

In truth, its approach is rather different from that of fundamentals of photonics. The chapters in elements of photonics are organized differently. The book starts off with Fourier optics and then uses it to address practical problems like light propagation in anisotropic media and the optical properties of crystals under various external fields.

As a student, I often consulted both books to get slightly different accounts of the same basic principles. However, I always had the feeling that elements of photonics had a lot more equations/mathematics when compared to fundamentals of photonics.

Also, as mentioned earlier, elements of photonics covers two important areas of photonics. On the other hand fundamentals of photonics has a broader outlook and gives you a flavor of many different areas of photonics. Areas covered include guided-wave optics, non-linear/ultrafast optics, photonics devices, fiber-optic communications, optical information processing, lasers, and optoelectronics.

I think every student in photonics should have both books. This ensures you get a well-rounded perspective on the basics of photonics and sets you up nicely for the future.

Now that we have introduced two excellent books covering the basics of photonics, it is time to move to the more advanced stuff. I now introduce the selection of books I think should be interesting for graduate students as well as photonics engineers/researchers.

Photonics books for researchers and engineers

Qualified photonics researchers and engineers working in research institutes or industry frequently need to revisit key concepts contained in books.

Compared to undergraduate students, graduate students and practicing photonics engineers typically focus on a relatively narrow area of photonics. Consequently, they often look for specialized books restricted to niche areas of photonics.

From here on, I choose two books for each niche area of photonics. The niches covered include lasers, optics, silicon photonics, biophotonics, fiber optic communications, nanophotonics, quantum optics/photonics, and computational photonics.

1. Books on lasers

Lasers are probably (apart from the transistor) the most important technical invention from the previous century. So it is only fitting that an overview of photonics books starts with important books on lasers.

Unlike other light sources, lasers have some unique properties. Laser light beams are made up of photons with the same wavelength. The photons which make up a laser beam exhibit both spatial and temporal coherence. Laser beams are also collimated i.e. they can travel long distances without spreading out too much.

These unique properties make lasers excellent information carriers for optical telecommunication systems. The internet as we know it today is made possible because lasers carry information in undersea optical cables between the continents.

In addition to optical telecommunications, lasers are used for machining/engraving, metrology, holography, medicine, sensing, etc. the possibilities are basically endless.

As a photonics engineer, it is important to get a good understanding of the physics behind laser operation. This understanding is invaluable for the photonics engineer – someone concerned with finding novel ways to generate, guide, and detect light.

In this section, we look at the bible of laser physics – principles of lasers by Prof. Orazio Svelto – as well as prof. Keller’s excellent book on the important class of ultrafast lasers.

Principles of lasers

Principles of lasers is simply the most influential and popular book on lasers. This is the mainstay for most future photonics engineers taking a class on lasers.

The foundations built with the material included in this book make it possible to remain up to date with the most recent advancements in laser physics.

It starts out by introducing basic concepts needed to thoroughly understand the interaction of radiation with atoms and ions. This is the simple case of light-matter interaction.

Next, it follows this up by considering the interaction of radiation with molecular and semiconductor materials.

Next up, you get introduced to ray and wave propagation through optical materials. From here the stage is set for you to learn about optical resonator physics. Lasers require a pump source, so various pumping processes are also covered.

After covering all the “ingredients” needed for lasing, you then get introduced to laser behavior including differentiating between continuous wave and transient laser behavior. From here the various types of laser possible are covered. Namely, gas, free electron, X-ray, solid state, dye, and semiconductor lasers.

The final section focuses on further explaining the special properties of lasers.

Ultrafast lasers

Ultra-short – i.e. picosecond or even femtosecond duration – laser pulses have many useful technology applications at the moment. Examples of applications that use ultrafast lasers include non-linear optics, laser (micro/nano) machining, (ultra-short) laser spectroscopy, holography, lidar, etc.

Accordingly, I think it makes sense to include a book on ultrafast lasers in this section focused on lasers. For this, I chose the book “Ultrafast lasers” written by an expert in laser physics prof. Ursula Keller.

Ultrafast lasers is a complete book that covers fundamental principles as well as practical applications of lasers operating in ultra-short pulse mode. It starts with an investigation of plane wave and linear pulse propagation in dispersive media.

An ultra-short laser pulse is described as a photon wave packet with an envelope and a bandwidth. Concepts like the slowly-varying envelope and the slowly-evolving-wave approximations are introduced. The negative effects of dispersion, namely; pulse broadening and group delay are also introduced.

You will then be introduced to dispersion compensation and then apply it to nonlinear pulse propagation. Next, the laser rate equations are revisited. This forms the basis for the investigation of the main techniques used to generate ultra-short laser pulses: mode-locking and q-switching.

The final sections of the book focus on pulse duration measurements, the intensity noise and timing jitter of mode-locked lasers, and optical frequency combs from modelocked lasers.

This book is an excellent choice for you if you are a graduate student who wishes to get a solid foundation in ultrafast laser physics. It makes it possible for you to engage in further research at the forefront of the field.

It is also very useful for photonics engineers who build or work with these systems on a daily basis. That is just in case they need to clarify the basics.

2. Optics books

The second section of this overview of specialist books in photonics is devoted to optics books.

No overview of books on photonics would be complete without a couple of foundational books on optics. Optics and photonics are intimately linked. In a sense, they are opposite sides of the same coin.

Optics focuses on the theoretical understanding of the nature of light including its propagation in various media. Meanwhile, photonics is an engineering discipline focused on manipulating light to achieve technical outcomes.

The border between both disciplines is not always clear. Whatever the case though, as a photonics graduate student or R&D engineer, knowledge in optics is mandatory.

In this section, I select the classic book on optics used by many students studying optics at the graduate level – principles of optics. Given the importance of images as they appear in various forms on our televisions and phone screens, I thought it wise to include a book the imaging optics as my second pick.

Finally, I include a third book focused on using Fourier analysis in optics – introduction to Fourier optics – written by Joe Goodman. Fourier analysis is a fantastic tool used in many other engineering disciplines. So it is only fitting to include this book here since Fourier analysis is a powerful tool for photonics engineers.

Principles of optics

Throughout this overview, you will notice my use of the phrase “bible of XYZ”. Replace XYZ here with any given sub-field of photonics. More than any other book in this overview, Principles of optics is most deserving of this attribute.

It is a true masterpiece on (theoretical) optics covering numerous important concepts and practical problems in optics using a rigorous mathematical approach. Compared to most other books I mention, principles of optics is pretty old. It has been used by generations of graduate students and researchers (including Nobel prize laureates).

If you are a graduate student or researcher in photonics, then this book is a must-have. It covers electromagnetic wave theory, geometrical optics and image formation, image-forming instruments, the operation of the human eye, interference, diffraction, as well as the optics of metals and crystals.

The size of the book (close to 1000 pages) may be a bit daunting. However, a closer look reveals this is for good reasons. For example, the appendices of principles of optics are a gold mine. Here you will find many useful explanations invaluable for understanding concepts like the calculus of variations, Hamilton’s canonical equations, etc.

Imaging optics

For the second book under the section for optics books, I include the book imaging optics. As mentioned earlier, my choice is guided by the unique place images have in our lives. From the get-go, our brains are wonderful pattern-recognition engines. So naturally, we find images very appealing as they can convey lots of information in a compact format.

Consequently, with photonics being the technology of light, it makes sense for every photonics engineer to have a thorough understanding of image formation as part of their “tool kit”.

If you are a (student) looking to quickly develop your knowledge of image formation or a photonics engineer looking to refresh some key details for your ongoing R&D project, then imaging optics is for you.

The book is organized into 3 parts. The first part focuses on electromagnetic theory in the optical domain. It deals with electromagnetic wave propagation in isotropic and anisotropic media, surface plasmons, metamaterials, and perfect imaging.

The second section looks at the geometrical theory of optical imaging. In this section of the book, fundamental geometrical optics theory is covered. It is then used to further analyze the aberrations of optical systems. Analytic design and optimization of optical systems are also covered.

The final section of the book focuses on the wave theory of optical imaging. This section is essentially section two of the book but this time with geometric (or ray) optics swapped out for wave optics.

Among others, this section covers the vector and scalar theory of diffraction and focusing. The aberrated scalar and vector point spread function. The frequency analysis of optical imaging and the vector theory of imaging.

3. Silicon photonics books

The third section of this overview of specialist books in photonics is devoted to silicon photonics. Silicon photonics is one of the most important sub-fields of photonics over the last 20 years. This is due in large part to the fact that it aims to develop integrated photonic components and systems in silicon.

Silicon is the base material for today’s electronic products. Silicon photonics makes a lot of sense since it doesn’t require investment in new (costly) foundry equipment.

It is possible to just reuse the same foundry equipment currently used for electronics. You can learn more about this by checking out our report on the fascinating relationship between electronics and photonics.

We expect faster internet and high data bandwidths in the coming years. Therefore, various types of passive and active photonic components are needed to replace their electronic counterparts. Consequently, building up knowledge in silicon photonics is very useful for graduate students and photonics engineers alike. . If you are a graduate student then it is all about building a solid background for your future career.

For this section on silicon photonics books, I introduce you to two must-haves on silicon photonics – silicon photonics design and the handbook of silicon photonics.

Silicon photonics design

Silicon photonics design is an excellent primer on the practical considerations for designing, simulating, and fabricating silicon photonic components.

It introduces graduate students to the main aspects of silicon photonics engineering, equipping them with all the skills they need to initiate and validate designs so they are ready for the foundry.

Silicon photonics design contains practical problem-solving examples (complete with source code and online supporting materials) related to issues currently being faced in the industry. The book supports all the main process development kits (PDKs) for the main foundries – IMEC, CEA-LETI, EPIXFAB, etc.

It is the most complete resource for helping students get their skills up to the industry standard. It is also invaluable for engineers already in the industry since it can help them refresh and fine-tune their knowledge. If you could only choose one book covering the most important parts of silicon photonics, then you should choose this one.

Handbook of silicon photonics

The handbook of silicon photonics is another excellent book on silicon photonics that is suitable for graduate students and photonics engineers.

It treats silicon photonics from the ground up starting with material properties and then moves on to examining the individual components needed to build complex photonic systems.

Following this, the book takes a look at hybrid and heterogeneous photonic integration as well as the fabrication of silicon photonics devices. It then proceeds to the practical considerations for the convergence between photonic and CMOS technology.

The book finally closes with in-depth investigations of two contemporary hot -topics; silicon photonics for biology and silicon-based photovoltaic technology.

4. Biophotonics books

The fourth section of this overview on specialist books in photonics is devoted to biophotonics.

Biophotonics is concerned with the biological and medical applications of photonics. Integrated photonic components like ring resonators, Mach-Zehnder interferometers, Bragg gratings, etc. are very sensitive to minute changes in their environment.

They can thus be used to build accurate sensors for important biological parameters like oxygen concentration, blood sugar level, etc. These integrated bio-photonic sensors have a small size, very low power consumption, and can be manufactured at scale (i.e. they are cheap).

For this section, I recommend two books; handbook of biophotonics and biophotonics: concepts to applications.

Handbook of biophotonics

Handbook of biophotonics is the most comprehensive book available in the field of biophotonics. It consists of 3 volumes covering the basics of biophotonics, its application to various fields of medicine, and process/quality assurance.

This book is a must-have if you are a graduate student, scientist, R&D engineer, or clinician working in biophotonics.

Volume one of the book covers the basics. It provides you with an overview of biophotonics, and an introduction to atomic and molecular configuration. It also covers the photonics concepts you need to effectively work on biophotonics.

Namely, light-matter interaction, light sources, and optical detectors. Finally, it provides a brief overview of the typical instruments used in biotechnology and medicine as well as a summary of basic biology.

Volume two of the book introduces you to various applications of biophotonics in laboratory medicine, pathology, oncology, pulmonology, urology, nephrology, gastroenterology, rheumatology, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, neurology, dermatology, gynecology, obstetrics, genetics, reproductive medicine, laser surgery, and dentistry.

Volume three of the book guides you into the applications of biophotonics for the purpose of industrial process control and quality assurance. It can be broadly segmented into 3 parts.

The first part looks at industrial perspectives of biophotonic process control and quality assurance. Here you get introduced to spectroscopy and chemical imaging in pharmaceuticals.

You also get to learn about quality control in food processing as well as the application of optical methods to quality and process control of topically applied products in cosmetics and dermatology.

Given the importance of agriculture, it is only fitting to have it as the focus of the second part of the third volume of the book. Here you get introduced to animal epidemics, pathogen detection, and on-site agricultural analysis.

The final section of the third volume looks at the biophotonics used in security applications. Among other things, you get introduced to body scanners and the detection of explosives proteins. It closes with high throughput and content screening for new pharmaceuticals.

As you can see from, this brief overview, handbook of biophotonics is a very complete text which should be on the bookshelf of every engineer/researcher active in the field of biophotonics.

Biophotonics: concepts to applications

We now turn our attention to the book “biophotonics: concepts to application”. This book is not as comprehensive as the handbook of biophotonics.

However, it is an excellent reference text for graduate students, researchers, and engineers working at the interface of optics/photonics and the life sciences.

The book is divided into 12 chapters which cover the fundamentals of photonics concepts and tools necessary for biological applications. Namely, the nature of light, light sources, optical detectors, and light-tissue interactions.

From here, you get introduced to the main areas of biophotonics. You get to learn about optical probes and biosensors, microscopy, spectroscopy, optical imaging procedures, and biophotonics technology applications.

One nice benefit of using this book is the extensive number of examples and homework problems which help you understand concepts faster. You get to learn how laser/LED light sources, optical fibers, photodetectors, and optical biomarkers can be integrated for useful applications.

This book helps you learn about applications like optical biosensors, lab-on-chip technology, optical coherence tomography, flow cytometry, laser ablation, photodynamic therapy, and low-level light therapy.

5. Fiber optic communication books

The fifth section of this overview on specialist books in photonics is devoted to fiber optic communications.

Fiber optic communication is an integral part of everyday life. Fiber optic communication technology is the physical layer on which the internet is built.

Optical fibers are the medium of choice for long-distance communication as they allow for efficient transmission of optical signals with an ultra-low loss on the order of a fraction of a decibel per kilometer.

Fiber optic technology is also used extensively in sensing. The unique properties of optical fibers make them ideal for applications where they can be embedded in a medium of interest (e.g. in concrete ) to sense strain, stress, pressure, and temperature.

Accordingly, an overview of photonics books would be incomplete if it fails to mention a book or two on fiber optic communications. In this section, I select two books on optical fiber communications. These are “fiber-optic communications systems” and “nonlinear fiber optics”.

Fiber-optic communication systems

When it comes to fiber optic communications, prof. Govind Agrawal’s – fiber-optic communication systems – is probably the best book you will find.

If you are a graduate student or research scientist working with fiber optical telecommunication systems, then this book is a must-have.

The book is segmented into twelve chapters covering optical fibers, optical transmitters, optical receivers, lightwave systems, multichannel systems, loss management, dispersion management, control of nonlinear effects, coherent lightwave systems, space-division multiplexing, and advanced topics.

You will definitely benefit from this book if you wish to develop an understanding of the fundamentals of fiber-optic communication systems while paying particular attention to fiber loss, dispersion, and nonlinearities.

The current edition also includes a discussion of coherent lightwave systems including coherent transmitters/receivers, noise, bit-error rate, and sensitivity degradation mechanisms.

Of further benefit for you is the inclusion of the chapter on space-division multiplexing. This includes a thorough discussion of multicore and multimode lightwave systems.

In addition to this, you also get to gain a thorough analysis of advanced topics like pulse shaping for higher spectral efficiency, Kramers-Kronig receivers, nonlinear Fourier transform, wavelength conversion, and optical regeneration.

Nonlinear fiber optics

Nonlinear effects are only too common in fiber optic telecommunication systems so it is only fitting that I include a book on nonlinear fiber optics. Just like the previous book, this is another specialist book in fiber optics from the esteemed prof. Govind Agrawal.

The book is divided into 14 chapters covering pulse propagation in fibers, group-velocity dispersion, self-phase modulation, optical solitons, polarization effects, cross-phase modulation, stimulated Raman scattering, stimulated Brillouin scattering, four-wave mixing, highly nonlinear fibers, novel nonlinear phenomena, supercontinuum generation, and multimode fibers.

Nonlinear fiber optics is of particular benefit to graduate students and research engineers who are eager to learn about nonlinear phenomena occurring inside optical fibers. These phenomena are of interest for applications in telecommunications and medicine.

The new edition of the book contains an update of the chapter on supercontinuum generation where chalcogenide optical fibers are used to extend the supercontinuum generation into the mid-infrared frequencies.

This is a great book for research engineers and scientists active in optical engineering and telecommunications.

6. Nanophotonics books

The sixth section of this overview on specialist books in photonics is devoted to nanophotonics.

Nanophotonics is a subfield of photonics concerned with manipulating material and geometric parameters at a scale comparable to the wavelength of light. For wavelengths of interest for photonics i.e. visible and near-infrared light, this means device geometry needs to be controlled within a precision of a few nanometers.

Nanophotonics is of central importance for integrated photonic components e.g. waveguides, couplers, ring resonators, arrayed waveguide gratings, etc. These devices need to have precise dimensions (width, eight, etc.) in order to manipulate light as desired.

In recent years, nanophotonics goes even further. It is possible to control light in novel ways by creating meta-atoms (sub-wavelength meta structures) that manipulate light in unconventional ways.

Rather than proceeding in the “usual” way and solving Maxwell’s equations for a given structure, we instead work backward. You start by considering how a geometric transformation affects the Maxwell equations and extract the material parameters which would suit this transformation.

For this section, just like the other ones, I select two books; “an introduction to metamaterials and nanophotonics” and “introduction to nanophotonics”.

Introduction to nanophotonics

Introduction to nanophotonics is an excellent book addressing all the main aspects of nanophotonics.

The book is based on lecture notes from a graduate nanophotonics course given by prof. Henri Benisty, prof. Jean-Jacques Greffet and prof. Philippe Lalanne at the Institut d’Optique graduate school (Paris, Bordeaux, Saint-Etienne).

You will find this book useful if you are looking for a coherent account of the interesting physics which arises when light interacts with matter patterned with nanometer-scale precision.

Among others, the effects you get to learn about include near-field optics, super-resolution microscopy, photonic crystals, diffractive optics, plasmonics, optoelectronics, and metamaterials.

In order to ease your comprehension, the book is organized into seven parts.

Part one covers the basics of electromagnetic optics. Here you get introduced to the basics of electrodynamics of continuous media, radiation, electrodynamics in material media, electromagnetic wave propagation, reflection/refraction at interfaces, guided modes, and the basics of resonators and cavities.

Part two of the book covers the optical properties of confined electrons. In this part of the book, you get to brush up on your knowledge of semiconductor physics and then proceed to learn about quantum wells, quantum dots, and quantum wires.

Part three of the book covers more advanced concepts in nanophotonics. Here you get introduced to near-field optics, super-resolution optical imaging, scattering, the Green tensor, and the local density of electromagnetic states.

Part four of the book focuses on the fascinating topic of plasmonics. Here you get to learn about propagating surface plasmons as well as localized surface plasmons.

Part five of the book takes an in-depth look at artificial media. In this part, you learn about Bloch modes, photonic crystals, metamaterials, and metasurfaces.

Part six of the book covers the physics of confined photons. Here you get to learn about nanoantennas and microcavities. Finally, part seven covers fluctuational electrodynamics.

An introduction to metamaterials and nanophotonics

For the second book under nanophotonics, I decided to choose one focusing on metamaterials and metasurfaces.

An introduction to metamaterials and nanophotonics is an excellent book for you if you already have a solid background in basic quantum mechanics, solid-state physics, and optics and you wish to learn about metamaterials from first principles.

It is written by two experts in the field of metamaterials; prof Constantin Simovski and prof. Sergei Tretyakov. Both professors are with Aalto University in Finland and have several years of experience working at the forefront of metamaterial research.

The book is organized into 11 self-contained chapters which give you a thorough overview of the basics as well as the most important developments of metamaterials and metasurfaces.

From the get-go in the book, you get introduced to the electromagnetic properties of materials, metamaterials, and metasurfaces. Based on this broad theoretical background, you get introduced to practical applications of metamaterials.

The next two chapters are then devoted to photonic crystals as well as their nanophotonic applications. The following chapter then covers the topic of plasmonics.

From here on the authors introduce you to the building blocks of all-optical signal processing, selected topics in optical sensing, and nanostructures for the enhancement of solar cells and other thermophotovoltaic systems.

7. Quantum photonics books

The seventh section of this overview of specialist books in photonics is devoted to quantum photonics.

In electronics, quantum effects are central to the functioning of many important devices. Examples include the p-n junction and the transistor. Similarly, quantum effects also play an important role in optoelectronics and photonics.

Photons are quantum mechanical particles and controlling them effectively in the vicinity of electrons (which are themselves quantum mechanical beasts) frequently yields interesting physics which can be exploited for useful means.

Semiconductor heterostructure devices that are crucial for optoelectronics e.g. photodetectors, lasers, LEDs, and quantum wells, etc all depend on quantum effects to function the way they do.

Furthermore, today we see the first steps toward quantum information processing and quantum cryptography. The ultimate aim is of course to eventually build a quantum computer. Unlike a classical computer, a quantum computer takes advantage of the superposition of quantum states in a qubit to perform computations a lot faster than a classical computer.

As a photonics engineer, it is of critical importance to understand how quantum physics can be our ally in developing cheaper and faster devices to keep us on track for a high-tech future.

Given the importance of this subject, I choose three different books. “Quantum photonics”, “quantum optics for experimentalists” and “quantum optics for engineers”.

Quantum photonics

Quantum photonics is an excellent book on the special connection between quantum physics and photonics.

You will really benefit from this book if you are looking for a text which explores and exploits the quantum nature of electrons and photons to build new devices for ever more attractive applications.

Maxwell’s equations (awesome as they are) can not completely describe the behavior of photons. An excellent example of this is the case of a single photon that passes through a beam splitter and is detected as either being 100% reflected or transmitted.

In addition to such deep insights, this excellent book by prof. Thomas Pearsall contains many practical numerical examples to help you better grasp the concepts it covers.

Furthermore, each of its chapters is supplemented by a set of exercises as well as a reference on the current state-of-the-art pertaining to it.

Quantum photonics is organized into 11 chapters. You get to start off with the basics considering electrons and photons.

From here, you will proceed to learn about free electron behavior in semiconductor heterostructures and electronic energy levels in crystalline semiconductors.

Next, you get to learn about the harmonic oscillator and quantization in electromagnetic fields. This then sets you up to learn about the all-important concepts of entanglement (not in the way Will and Jada Smith understand it) and non-locality.

The rest book then focuses on common and useful applications of quantum photonics. Namely, lasers, quantum cascade lasers, non-linear optics – especially second-harmonic generation and parametric oscillation -, coherent states, and quantum fermions.

Quantum optics for experimentalists

Quantum optics for experimentalists is subdivided into two main parts. There’s the theoretical foundations of quantum optics and experimental techniques in quantum optics.

Quantum optics models a light beam as consisting of a stream of individual photons which are quantized into well-defined energy levels. This is a radical departure from classical optics which considers light to be an electromagnetic wave.

Quantum optics for engineers is an excellent book that addresses quantum optics from the point of view of an experimental physicist. Experimental physicists working with light often develop photonic applications. So it makes sense to include this book in this overview of quantum photonics books.

You will benefit from this book if you are an optical physicist/engineer who wishes to better understand or further improve the complexity/quality of your quantum optics experiments.

This is an excellent book for those who want to be able to properly account for quantum noise in phase measurements as well as perform accurate quantum correlation and quantum entanglement measurements.

The book achieves this by exploring quantum optics by emphasizing the well-known optical (multi) modes of classical wave theory. This approach is a lot more realistic than that presented in most other books on quantum optics and immediately makes experimentalists feel at home with the counter-intuitive nature of quantum physics.

Under the theoretical foundations of quantum optics, the book covers the historical development of quantum optics, the mode theory of optical fields and their quantization, quantum states of single-mode and multi-mode fields, the theory of photodetection, the quantum theory of coherence, as well as the generation and transformation of quantum states.

Under the experimental techniques of quantum optics, the book covers the two main techniques used by researchers and engineers working at the forefront of the field – the photon-counting technique and the detection of continuous photo-currents.

For the photon-counting technique, the main applications considered are multi-photon interference and entanglement. Whereas for the detection of continuous photo-currents, the applications considered are homodyne detection and quantum measurement of continuous variables.

The book concludes with the consideration of quantum noise in phase measurement and an appendix.

Quantum optics for engineers

Quantum optics for engineers is yet another excellent book on quantum optics, only this time the subject is approached from the perspective of an engineer.

It features prominent use of Dirac’s bra-ket notation and emphasizes practical applications of quantum mechanics based on key concepts like the Schrödinger equation and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

True to its title, the book requires a solid basis in calculus and algebra. It explains the fundamental quantum origins of common optical phenomena like reflection, refraction, and diffraction.

The book does a good job of introducing you to the probability amplitude of quantum entanglement. It then goes on to apply this concept to optical communications, quantum cryptography, quantum teleporting, and quantum computing.

Quantum optics for engineers is subdivided into 21 chapters. It starts off by considering the basics of Planck’s quantum energy equation, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and Dirac quantum optics.

Next, you get introduced to common optical phenomena – reflection, interference, refraction, and diffraction – explained in terms of the Dirac bra-ket notation. You then get to build further on this when you learn about generalized multi-prism dispersion.

From here you learn about Dirac notation identities which are key for the next chapters in the book. Using the Dirac notation, it is now possible to address laser excitation, laser oscillators, and interferometry.

This is followed by a chapter on secure interferometric communications in free space. The Schrödinger equation comes next and is followed by a concise introduction to Feynman’s path integrals. With this under your belt, you are then in good stead to learn about the matrix aspects of quantum mechanics.

The last part of the book consists of chapters on classical and quantum polarization, entangled polarizations, quantum computing, quantum cryptography and teleportation, quantum measurements, and finally interpretations issues in quantum mechanics.

8. Computational Photonics

The eighth section of this overview of specialist books in photonics is devoted to computational photonics.

Just like other engineering disciplines, photonics requires extensive computer simulations. In order to develop photonic devices, it is necessary to accurately model light’s behavior.

This typically involves properly modeling light’s propagation in (and interaction) with various optical materials including semiconductors.

The behavior of most photonic devices can be explained by solving Maxwell’s equations. Photonic device development is a multiphysics endeavor. Different physical effects need to be taken into account.

For example, depending on the type of photonic device, it may be necessary to simulate the effect of physical parameters like heat, voltage, pressure, etc on optical parameters of the device.

Additionally, recent years have seen an important development as quantum effects and the quantum nature of light need to be properly accounted for.

From a practical point of view, simulations are invaluable in photonics for two main reasons.

First, in order to better understand the underlying physics of a photonic device, it is helpful to reproduce its key characteristics in a simulation. This makes it possible for photonics engineers to check that they fully understand why a photonic device behaves the way it does.

Secondly, simulations can be used to narrow down options before actual photonic device fabrication. Manufacturing photonics devices is an expensive business. Accurate simulations make it possible for photonic engineers to optimize device parameters as much as possible before actually proceeding to an actual device.

It is of course necessary to then test this device afterward and make sure it behaves as it should. If it doesn’t then either the underlying physics is not well understood or some of the simulated device parameters can’t be reproduced with high fidelity during the manufacturing process.

For this section, I select two books on computational photonics; “computational photonics: an introduction with Matlab” and “computational liquid crystal photonics.

Computational photonics: an introduction with Matlab

If you are an engineering student, then you have probably dabbled around with Matlab. Matlab is especially well suited to solving the various equations you commonly encounter as a photonics engineer. So it is only fitting to include this book on computational photonics with Matlab.

The book starts with a recap of the basics of optics and electromagnetism and then proceeds to deal with more advanced topics. The main idea is to introduce graduate students and engineers to the simulation of fundamental photonic devices.

The main numerical schemes for modeling the propagation of light introduced in this book are the finite-difference time-domain method and the finite-element beam propagation method.

These numerical methods are applied to the simulation of a wide array of photonic components and devices – waveguides, optical sources, amplifiers, optical detectors, optical solitons, solar cells, and metamaterials.

On an unrelated note, even though Matlab is very popular, other scientific programming languages are gaining prominence. One such language is python, which has a scientific computation library that allows for developing numerical almost identical to those used with Matlab. Accordingly, it should be possible to use this book with python rather than Matlab.

Computational liquid crystal photonics

Computational liquid crystal photonics is an excellent book on the numerical techniques used to model liquid crystal-based photonic devices. Liquid crystals have been used in displays for decades now.

In recent years, liquid crystals have gained a more prominent place in photonics, especially integrated photonics devices.

Assuming you have a basic background in mathematics and physics, you will find this book invaluable if you want to learn about how to properly model various liquid crystal photonics devices.

Computational liquid crystal photonics is divided into 3 main parts. Part 1 deals with the basics. Here the basic principles of waveguides as well as the fundamentals of photonic crystals and liquid crystals are covered.

Part 2 of the book gets into the meat of the subject and covers the numerical techniques which are indispensable for modeling liquid crystal-based photonic devices. In this part of the book, the full vector finite difference beam propagation and finite-difference time-domain methods are dealt with.

The final section of the book deals with the practical applications of liquid crystal-based photonic devices. Liquid crystal polarization rotators, photonic liquid crystal layers for optical computing and image recognition, based on liquid crystal layers, liquid crystal photonic crystal fiber sensors.


If you have made it this far, then congratulations! You are now up to date on the most relevant books on photonics and its sub-fields. At the start of this report, the intent was to answer the question what is the best book on photonics? However, this is a composite question that in fact contains other questions.

The best book on photonics depends on the background of the person reading it. The real question is actually what is the most appropriate book on photonics? Some books are more suitable for a general audience and contain very little mathematics.

Another category of photonics books is meant for students. This type of book usually contains a general theoretical framework as well as worked examples and practice questions. They aim to equip the student with a well-rounded/solid base for further studies or future practice in the industry.

There is a final category of books focused on specialized sub-fields of photonics. These books strive to provide an exhaustive treatment of a specific branch of photonics. They are suitable for graduate students and engineers working on state-of-the-art applications in their respective fields.

In this report, you are introduced to books on lasers, optics, silicon photonics, biophotonics, fiber optics, nanophotonics, quantum photonics, and computational photonics.

It is of course not possible to cover all books in photonics in one sitting. This report is just meant as a starting point and points you in the direction of the most interesting books for the most popular subfield of photonics.

I hope you enjoyed this overview of photonics books. Feel free to reach out in case you have ideas or suggestions on interesting books you think I should include in this list in the coming months.

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