The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book The Rainbow Bridge

The Rainbow Bridge

Rainbows in Art, Myth, and Science Raymond L. Lee, Jr., and Alistair B. Fraser
  • Copyright: 2001
  • Dimensions: 8.5 x 11
  • Page Count: 408 pages
  • Illustrations: 97 color/63 b&w illustrations
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-01977-2
  • Co-publisher: SPIE Optical Engineering Press
“A learned and gracefully written book which surveys every important aspect of the rainbow, including its role in myth, religion, and art. This eye-opening volume reveals the considerable physical and cultural significance of a remarkable natural masterpiece. . . . The chapters on myth and art are as brilliant as those on modern optics and illustrate how the rainbow has been as elusive to scientists as to ancient mythmakers. This smart, impassioned cross-disciplinary study, with its many color photos and illustrations. provides an eight-course feast for the intellect and the eyes.”
The Rainbow Bridge is a celebration of rainbows as bridges that span between cultures—the liberal arts and the sciences, the past and the present, the living and the dead, the sacred and the profane, the academic and the commercial. It succeeds brilliantly in developing and sustaining this theme by drawing on a great number of original sources. It will be an indispensable resource for scientists interested in art, and for artists interested in science—a bridge indeed.”
“This smart, impassioned cross-disciplinary study, with its many color photos and illustrations, provides an eight-course feast for the intellect and the eyes.”
“Over it, under it, sideways, you name the angle: a spectacular cultural history of the rainbow in art, myth and science. It shimmers.”
“Lee and Fraser have written an authoritative book on rainbows. From prehistoric art to modern-day advertising, they explore the cultural and artistic symbolism of the rainbow. . . . This book will be a great addition to the library of anyone interested in art and science.”
“Stunningly well informed about the art, science, philosophy and history of all eras since the Periclean Golden Age, unerringly elegant, flatteringly intelligent and beautifully illustrated, it is a masterpiece of accessible scholarship.”
“The rainbow is one of humankind’s premier symbols, permeating our myths, art, and literature. It serves as a perpetual source of inspiration for aspiring atmospheric scientists and cornerstone problem in the history of science. Covering such an extensive field, as the authors have done superbly, requires polyglot abilities. Both authors have made fundamental contributions to our understanding of rainbows and have at the same time become historians of the first class. Reading The Rainbow Bridge is a cultural and scientific happening.

The Rainbow Bridge traverses an immense ground with style, grace, wit, and insight. It will provide atmospheric scientists with an authoritative account of the scientific and cultural roots of their field. And perhaps most important, it will make all of us better observers. Atmospheric scientists who may never have thought of themselves as ‘cultured’ may find themselves with an ability to diagnose paintings with unexpected discrimination and knowledge.”
“Lee and Fraser have produced an unusual book with universal appeal to all sighted humans, from pre-literate five-year-olds to hyper-literate scholars.”
The Rainbow Bridge is an outstanding book.

A treasure, and a treasure trove.”
The Rainbow Bridge is the ultimate book for rainbow fact and lore.

For those who enjoy seeing the human face in science, this is an outstanding reference.

It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive book. For those who are interested in human aspects of the rainbow, this is the book for you.”
“Lee and Fraser are masters of prose, and their book is sumptuously produced and abundantly illustrated. They are to be congratulated for producing not only a definitive rainbow scholarship but also a gorgeous work of cultural synthesis.”
The Rainbow Bridge, by Lee and Fraser, is an excellent guide to the appealing rainbow world. . . . I heartily recommend this book to everyone interested in the history and development of optics and its relationship with ancient and modern myths and/or artistic representations of natural shapes and colors. I especially recommend it to those seeking to bridge the gap between the ‘two cultures,’ whether they believe themselves citizens of the Republic of Sciences or the Republic of the Arts.”
“This is a magnificent and scholarly book, exquisitely produced, and definitely not destined only for the coffee table. It is multifaceted in character, addressing rainbow-relevant aspects of mythology, religion, the history of art, art criticism, the history of optics, the theory of color, the philosophy of science, and advertising! The quality of the reproductions and photographs is superb. The authors are experts in meteorological optics,but their book draws on many other subdisciplines.”
“Lee and Fraser combine informative text, images, and diagrams in this eclectic survey of cultural and scientific perspectives on the interaction between sunlight and raindrops.”

Venerated as god and goddess, feared as demon and pestilence, trusted as battle omen, and used as a proving ground for optical theories, the rainbow's image is woven into the fabric of our past and present. From antiquity to the nineteenth century, the rainbow has played a vital role in both inspiring and testing new ideas about the physical world. Although scientists today understand the rainbow's underlying optics fairly well, its subtle variability in nature has yet to be fully explained.

Throughout history the rainbow has been seen primarily as a symbol—of peace, covenant, or divine sanction—rather than as a natural phenomenon. Lee and Fraser discuss the role the rainbow has played in societies throughout the ages, contrasting its guises as a sign of optimism, bearer of Greek gods' messages of war and retribution, and a symbol of the Judeo-Christian bridge to the divine.

The authors traverse the bridges between the rainbow's various roles as they explore its scientific, artistic, and folkloric visions. This unique book, exploring the rainbow from the perspectives of atmospheric optics, art history, color theory, and mythology, will inspire readers to gaze at the rainbow anew.

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Raymond L. Lee, Jr. is adjunct professor in the Mathematics and Science Division at the U. S. Naval Academy. He has contributed articles to Applied Optics, Journal of the Optical Society of America, Color Research and Application, and New Scientist. Alistair Fraser is professor emeritus of Meteorology at Penn State. His articles have appeared in Smithsonian, Reader's Digest, Scientific American, and Weatherwise.

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