Book Review: Clinical Optics Made Easy

Disclaimer: I was approached by the publisher because they wanted to promote the release of this new book. While I hope to keep my specific recommendations free of influence, I do want to make sure to make people more aware of the various tools and resources out there to help you learn and prepare for board exams. As such, I agreed to review this book in exchange for a free copy of the book. I have not received any other form of compensation from the author or publisher.


For me, learning clinical optics systematically is pretty challenging - it's something that we as ophthalmologists use every day but probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about how we apply it that often. There are also a lot of disparate concepts that have to somehow be organized in a meaningful manner in my head. The common advice for reviewing optics for the OKAP and board exams is to cram it during the last few weeks prior to the test. In fact, in my reading schedule I intentionally put optics towards the end so that it stayed fresh in your mind in the weeks leading up to the test.

Part of the challenge of optics is that is both highly conceptual but sometimes counter-intuitive. There are calculations, true, but sometimes what's trickier is figuring out how to apply the right equations or principles to solving the correct problem. After all, trying to figure out what Snell's law is only matters if you know when to apply it.

There are several different texts and other methods that teach optics - each with their unique strengths and weaknesses. So when I was approached to review Clinical Optics Made Easy, I was very intrigued. It's a somewhat thick book (367 pages), so on first blush it might be a bit intimidating to pick up. However, it provides a unique approach to learning optics that may be great for some readers, and a bit confusing for others.


As a topic-specific book, the author (Dr. Michael Wiggins) boils down his target audience into students and instructors. Dr. Wiggins employs a very unorthodox method to accomplish his purposes. For the students, the humor and practical examples are designed to help solidify mastery over some of these concepts. For the instructor, these examples may provide some creative encouragement to solve the challenges of teaching optics (he includes a "for the instructor" section at the end of the chapters as well). He utilizes a very off-the-cuff, non-technical style to explaining concepts. For someone looking for a "just the facts" textbook, this style may drive you nuts. But, if you're looking for a source that explains the many optics topics in a casual manner, this may be a great resource for you.


The book is divided into basic geometric optics, which gets you thinking about the fundamental concepts of optics, building up to magnification and prisms, then practical applications of lenses and mirrors. Each topic is discussed in a conversational, informal tone, with various color illustrations and pictures provided to help solidify certain concepts.


The entire book tries to maintain a certain informal tone; so while the images themselves are of good quality, they can sometimes look like they were drawn in Microsoft Paint. Not necessarily a bad thing, but if you're looking for the Mona Lisa, you will be disappointed. I was very appreciative of the word-to-picture ratio, as some optics texts attempt to teach optics solely using words, and others solely using pictures. This book has a healthy blend of both.

Practice Questions

Another great aspect of this book is that there are quite a few practice questions (with answers and explanations) at the end of each chapter. There are both multiple choice and short-answer questions, and there are several levels of difficulty to get you thinking. Dr. Wiggins is a strong proponent of repetition, so with each concept there are usually about 5-10 questions testing over the same concept.


Organization:  5 out of 5

Honestly, can you ever say there's a logical way to organize optics? If you start from page 1 and follow the book as it is, every concept builds on itself well. And that should be commended.

Readability:  4 out of 5

The main reason why I didn't give it a 5 out of 5 is because not everyone learns well in the style that Dr. Wiggins uses. Also, I found this book a tad more challenging to use as a quick reference.

Comprehensiveness:  4 out of 5

While this book doesn't cover all of the different aspects of optics that you might be asked on tests, it covers all of the essential clinical concepts that you need to know in clinic.

Citations:  4 out of 5

There are not direct citations listed throughout the chapter, but at the end of every chapter there is a list of selected reading. This is actually a great feature of the book and speaks to Dr. Wiggins' willingness to incorporate other helpful sources with his own material to teach more effectively.

Images:  4 out of 5

As I said before, the images are good but many of them aren't artistic perfections. Personally, I think it goes really well with the more informal style, and they are still very effective and on-point.

Suitability for the Beginning Ophthalmologist:  5 out of 5

I highly recommend this book for trainees who are just starting out and/or preparing for the OKAP. While it is not as succinct as some other optics textbooks out there, it addresses the major concepts that are fundamental to the optics we see in clinic every day. Just be sure to allot yourself enough time to get through the entire book and work all of the practice problems.

Suitability for Written Board Review:  4 out of 5

Is this book sufficient to pass the optics section of the ABO's Written Qualifying Exam? I don't know (but that's largely due to my ignorance of what's actually on the exam each year). However, the principles of optics don't change, and now that I have this book in my library, I would recommend it as a refresher and as a source of useful practice questions to remind yourself of practical applications.

Suitability for Oral Board Review:  5 out of 5

I think that for oral board review and those just starting out in ophthalmology will find this book the most useful. While it's my perception and bias that exam questions on any of the major ophthalmology exams are not as calculation-based as the practice questions listed, this book does a good job of expounding on the conceptual basis for optics. As such, I think that between the OKAP, WQE, and OBE, the oral board exam tests concepts in a much more practical way, which plays into the strengths of this book.

Portability:  3.5 out of 5

The book is not small enough to fit in my white coat, but I carried it around in my laptop bag for a couple of weeks as I was reading through the book, and I haven't noticed any new aches or muscle cramps. There is no Kindle version on Amazon, and I am not aware of any other mobile format.

Cost:  $$


$ = $0.00-$50.00
$$ = $50.00-$150.00
$$$ = $150.00-$250.00
$$$$ = $250.00-$350.00
$$$$$ = $350.00 or more

Amazon has it available for about $130 right now. While this may be a bit steep compared to some other optics books, the content does appear to be priced pretty well, considering the practice question banks, well-placed illustrations, and detailed explanations of each concept.

Overall Rating:  4.5 out of 5

I highly value books that I can reread, especially when it comes to textbooks. I get Dr. Wiggins' humor, which is probably why I plan to use this book as one of my references as I develop more articles on optics for this site in the future. Depending on your personality, this may be one of those books for you too, but I think that others will find the lengthier explanations more difficult to read than some of the other optics texts. If you prefer a bullet-point, bare essentials approach to optics, this will not be a good fit, but if you're struggling with trying to wrap your mind around concepts like lenses, prisms, mirrors, or refraction, Dr. Wiggins does a remarkable job of taking these seemingly dry concepts and infusing them with a fair amount of wit and practical illustration.

This book is perfect for the person who looking for a non-intimidating starting point into optics, and for those looking for a review of optics that feels more like a conversation than a reference manual. Dr. Wiggins also provides encouragement to those tasked with the responsibility of teaching optics, and uses his extensive experience in the subject matter to inspire readers to appreciate and (for the worthy few) love this fundamental subject.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Leave a comment or contact us!