Bryan Tabor

A dozen favourite books related to microscopy

I am a confirmed bibliophile and compulsive reader, and so I found it hard to respond in a quantified and orderly manner to the idea of favourite books – I have never knowingly thrown a book away! However, posing the question started a chain of thought – when did my compulsion start?

My grandmother might have been amongst the earliest women to go into formal higher education (Homerton College, 1893–1894). She did not come from a well-off family. My great-grandfather was a commercial traveller and reputedly a strict Victorian parent. He had, however, a firm belief in the importance of education, and made it possible for a daughter as well as his son to go to Cambridge.

It must have been in the late 1930s, when I was seven or eight years old, that this grandmother, of whom I was always somewhat in awe, lent me one of her early college text-books. Not only were there interesting items such as “Mr Darwin’s explanation of the formation of coral atolls”, but also a fascinating section on the preparation of rock samples so thin that they could transmit light! With a microscope these could be examined to determine the composition and structure of the rocks. I certainly did not understand all that was written there, but I can still remember the illustration of what looked like a converted treadle sewing machine that was to be used to cut the rocks, and the circular drawings illustrating the minerals and textures revealed. I think that was when I was “hooked”, even though it was to be many years later before I had a microscope of my own and could follow up this line of enquiry.

That brought me to my second line of thought. Where do I start when I have a question related to microscopy? I am sure that most of the experienced Club members have their own approach but my “list of first resort” begins with W.G. Hartley – Hartley’s Microscopy [Oxford: Senecio, 2ed 1979], which is a superb practical text, developed from his earlier Teach Yourself Microscopy. His writing could not be more clear, nor his advice more helpful. I go on to Hartley’s The Light Microscope – Its Use and Development [Senecio, 1993], which includes some history of the instrument together with more details on manipulation, underlain by a deep theoretical knowledge, written in Gilbert’s fluent and unmistakable style. J.G. Delly’s – Photography Through the Microscope [Eastman Kodak Co., 1988] is the final one of my trio of first resort: these excellent works come readily to hand, and either give me the basic information or lead on to more specific areas of reference.

Among those there is the whole invaluable range of RMS Microscopy Handbooks, for some of which Savile Bradbury was the Series Editor. These, well worth a study in their own right, are often based on the practical experience of RMS Light Microscopy Courses, and of course lead on to further literature.

For further literature we must not forget our own primary source, the Cumulative Index to the Quekett Journals of Microscopy, by M.J. Newstead [QMC, 1994] together with the 1998 CD-ROM Edition of The Journal of The Quekett Microscopical Club – 1868–1992. I am often struck by early authors referring to our journal as the primary source (e.g. The Study of Rocks by Frank Rutley, 1878). There is a whole wealth of information here, greatly extended on the historical aspects by two publications by Brian Bracegirdle, Notes on Modern Microscope Manufacturers [QMC, 1996] and Microscopical Mounts and Mounters [QMC, 1998].

In respect to my particular geological interests I have often been asked where one starts? The preface to the first edition of Frank Rutley’s book ends with the observation “petrology cannot be learnt merely by reading”. That is still true today, for it is a practical subject, but of course one needs help in starting to recognise what can be seen. Here probably the best place to start is A Colour Atlas of Rocks and Minerals in Thin Section – W.S. MacKenzie and A.E. Adams, Manson Publishing, 1994, together with a whole series of more advanced Colour Atlases of which MacKenzie is consistently a contributing author.

Once one has got a feeling for the textures and appearances from the colour photographs, the older books such as Petrography – An Introduction to the Study of Rocks in Thin Sections, by H. Williams, F.J. Turner and C.M. Gilbert [Freeman, 1982], with their wealth of black and white drawings representing microscopical fields of view, start to make sense even when working on one’s own. For a further understanding of the principles behind observations, as well as more details of their application to specific minerals, I have found two books most generally readable. The one is by D. Shelley Optical Mineralogy [Elsevier, 2ed, 1985], and the other, by C.D. Gribble & A.J. Hall, is Optical Mineralogy, Principles & Practice [UCL Press, 1997].

I have stayed with books that I believe should still be generally available one way or another, and of course there are not only many others still in print, but all the much older literature that I find myself dipping into. E.J. Spitta’s Microscopy [my 3ed 1920] comes into its own every so often, and so does The Determination of Minerals Under the Microscope by J.W. Evans [Murby, 1928], with its clear explanations of some of the older terminology. (Both authors incidentally are former Quekett Club members).

I am without doubt a promiscuous reader but looking back now, perhaps there really was a “favourite” book, the one that as a result of war-time bombing I shall never own but is a clear if incomplete memory. A child psychologist has observed “What we do to a child, the child will do to society”. This all left me with the thought that although we shall probably never know, the help we give to young persons in their formative years to see some of the wonders of nature, may well have a profound and I believe beneficial influence on their lives.

Quekett Journal of Microscopy, 2003, 39, 561–562

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