Helmholtz's Treatise on Physiological Optics

Hermann von Helmholtz, Nicholas Wade (Editor), James P. C. Southall (Translator)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


'The Treatise is the foundation work of visual perception and has been unavailable for many years in English. It is a tribute to the imaginative initiative of Thoemmes Press to undertake this major enterprise. It will be greatly appreciated by a wide range of scholars. The choice of Professor Nick Wade for the new Introduction could not be bettered. His knowledge of the history of the subject, together with his grasp of present ideas and discoveries, make this a definitive work to admire and inspire us today. Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz would be delighted.' —Emeritus Professor Richard L. Gregory

'The Treatise on Physiological Optics is one of the best books on this topic ever written and even now, after almost 150 years, it is still unwise to be or become a vision scientist without having read this book. Written by the Newton of vision science the book is as complete a foundation for this field as one might desire. This influential landmark publication is simply indispensable for any modern vision scientist and will remain the classic work for centuries to come.' —Professor Wim A. van de Grind

Helmholtz's Treatise on Physiological Optics is widely recognized as the greatest book ever written on vision. This classic work was translated into English to mark the centenary of Helmholtz's birth and is one of the most frequently cited books on the physiology and physics of vision.

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821-94) was a major influence on German science during the mid-nineteenth century, bringing it to the forefront of world attention. He was a physicist and psychologist who made major contributions to both fields. His Treatise transformed the study of vision by integrating its physical, physiological and psychological dimensions. He provided the explanation of the mechanism of accommodation, invented the ophthalmoscope, revived the three-colour theory of vision first proposed in 1801 by Thomas Young, invented the telestereoscope, produced some novel visual illusions, and argued for the involvement of knowledge in perception. Helmholtz became a great inspiration to many others, famously Heinrich Hertz, a student of Helmholtz, who discovered radio waves.

The work was originally published in German, as Handbuch der physiologischen Optik, in three separate volumes between 1856 and 1866, and then together in 1867. The 3rd edition (1909-11), brought up to date and greatly expanded after Helmholtz's death, is widely considered to be the definitive edition. The Optical Society of America commissioned the translation of this edition in 1924-5, adding further new and original material by scholars A. Gullstrand, J. von Kries and Christine Ladd-Franklin. The Thoemmes Press edition reprints this translation in its entirety, and also adds a bibliographic index taken from the second German edition, containing 8000 references for all topics described by Helmholtz. The reprint also features a new introduction by Nicholas Wade, adding extra value to this essential text for all scholars of vision science.

—a rare, sought-after work that is the standard text on vision
—contains a useful bibliographic index not found in the original translation
—features supplements by other vision scholars and illustrations
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherThoemmes Continuum
Number of pages1955
ISBN (Print)1855068311 , 9781855068315
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2000


Dive into the research topics of 'Helmholtz's Treatise on Physiological Optics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this