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Meteoritics & Planetary Science 39, Nr 3, 499–500 (2004)

Abstracts available online at http://meteoritics.org

Book Review
Introduction to optical mineralogy, by William D.
Nesse. Third edition. Oxford University Press, 2004, 348 pp.,
$79.95, hardcover, (ISBN 0–19–514910–6)

Anyone with a geology background will remember the

hours of staring down an optical microscope at thin sections
with mixed emotions. There was the wonder at your first
glimpse of the kaleidoscope of colors of a thin section under
crossed polars, followed by the terrible realization that all the
delicate patterns and lines, and the bright spectrum of colors,
had to be analyzed in all its bewildering detail, just to identify
the minerals. Over the hours spent squinting through the eye
pieces until you could no longer focus on anything if you
looked up, you will have developed a love-hate relationship
with that optical mineralogy book next to you on the desk. It
quickly became a well-thumbed tome, and sometimes, at
night when you closed your eyes, you would see isochromes
wandering over the inside of your eyelids.
Perhaps this experience with optical mineralogy is why
so many of us shun the use of an optical microscope and why
our tatty old optical mineralogy book now sits abandoned on
the shelf. Thin-sections nowadays do seem to go straight from
polishing to carbon coating for the easy, but sometimes
wrong, mineral identification offered by an analytical
scanning electron microscope. It is not that we have got lazy, The ideal optical mineralogy textbook is one that devotes
it is just that optical mineralogy so often seems like several chapters to explaining the physics of the optical
yesterday’s technique. properties of minerals in thin-section and optical mineralogy
However, nowadays, when SEM time is becoming a techniques in clear and easy to understand language, with the
valuable commodity, you might like to remember the old rest of the book devoted to the identification of different
ways of the optical microscope. It is like riding a bike: it all groups of minerals. Introduction to optical mineralogy by
comes flooding back in terrible detail and you will suddenly William D. Nesse does this and more.
wonder why you spent two hours last week trying to decide The first few chapters provide a surprisingly clear and
which polymorph you had analyzed in the SEM. thorough description of optical properties and techniques that
If you have not had the benefit of optical mineralogy even includes a nob-by-nob guide to optical microscopes. It
before, or you are now finding yourself in the daunting also has a chapter on reflected light microscopy—something
position of trying to teach it to a new generation of long- forgotten by most textbooks and yet very much appropriate
suffering students, you probably want to find a new optical for the study of meteorites and their plethora of metallic and
mineralogy textbook. Introduction to optical mineralogy by sulphide phases.
William D. Nesse may be exactly what you are looking for. The latter chapters of the book discuss how to go about
There has been a trend amongst students towards the the business of identifying minerals in thin-section and are
textbooks that have lots of glossy color pictures of minerals in equally pleasing. They are organized sensibly by mineral
thin-section, with the result that, unless the mineral in the group, and provide sufficient information on atomic structure
section looks identical to that in the picture, they will be and phase relations to understand the compositional and
completely unable to identify it. The opposite are textbooks structural differences between minerals without going into
that include just abstract line drawings of the crystal unnecessary detail. The list of minerals covered is impressive
symmetry and optical axes with lists of refractive indexes and and should be sufficient for most Earth science students.
birefringence. Although very thorough and complete, they are However, some important meteoritic phases are missing, such
difficult to use in everyday mineral identification. as hibonite, troilite, kamacite, and taenite. The descriptions of

499 © Meteoritical Society, 2004. Printed in USA.

500 Book Review

the properties of minerals in hand specimen and in thin not entirely robust means of identifying the right mineral, but
section are thorough and pleasingly concise—most are 1–2 it is a handy tool to get a novice in the right ball park of the
pages in length and are accompanied by a smattering of black mineral world. These minor points apart, Introduction to
and white photographs of minerals. The “occurrence” section optical mineralogy by William D. Nesse is very close to my
with each description, however, is probably a little too idea of a perfect mineralogy book, and is worth investigating
concise. A handy addition to the book is the fold-out if you find yourself puzzled when squinting down the
interference color chart, in color, at the back. You may be microscope eye piece with an expectant student awaiting your
surprised to learn that this essential plate is not always present authoritative opinion with baited breath.
in optical mineralogy books. Matthew Genge
One particularly nice section of the book is “tactics for Imperial College London
mineral identification” which gives a clear and organized Department of Earth Science and Engineering
description on how to actually go about matching a mineral London SW7 2AZ
with a mineral name. It may sound unneccessary, given the UK
other sections of the book, but when it comes to identifying
minerals, I certainly need all the help I can get. In the January 2004 issue of MAPS, we published Dr.
There are a few criticisms you could make about Ludolf Schultz’ review of Meteorites, ice, and Antarctica, a
Introduction to optical mineralogy by William D. Nesse. It book by William A. Cassidy. By our mistake, we incorrectly
would be nice to see an optical mineralogy book that also credited that review to Dr. Matthew Genge. Our apologies to
gives a short description of a few common textures, since this Dr. Ludolf Schultz of Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie in
is something students struggle with and could be achieved in Mainz, Germany.
a few pages. I also give my students a mineral cheat tree—a MAPS staff.