1st Edition

Invisible Light The Remarkable Story of Radiology

By Adrian Thomas Copyright 2022
    332 Pages 162 B/W Illustrations
    by CRC Press

    The book is a developed history of the radiological sciences – covering the back-story to Röntgen’s discovery, the discovery itself and immediate reception the early days of radiology leading to classical radiology (the pre-digital world). The 1970s as the ‘golden decade’ of radiology will be covered in detail, with the development of CT, MRI and modern interventional radiology. It will appeal to interested members of the public, to those working in the field, and to historians of medicine and science.

    1. Röntgen’s discovery.

    2. The early radiology departments and the problems they faced.

    3. Radiology and culture.

    4. Radiology and anatomy.

    5.Dangers in the X-ray department.

    6. Tubes, plates and screens.

    7. Radiologically guided intervention.

    8. Contrast media.

    9. Radiology and women.

    10. Tomography: mechanical to computed.

    11. NMR to MRI.

    12. The Future.


    Dr Adrian Thomas is a writer and teacher. He has seen the development of modern radiology during his career, entering medical school at University College London in 1972, the year that the CT scanner was announced. He has had an interest in history since his school days; studying medical history with Jonathan Miller, Edwin Clarke and Bill Bynum at University College London for his BSc. Adrian started his radiology training in 1981 at Hammersmith Hospital, which coincided with their pioneering development of the MRI scanner. He is a founder member and past-president of the British Society for the History of Radiology. He has co-authored 7 books and written many book chapters. He is past-president of the British Society for the History of Medicine, past-president of the Radiology Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, is Honorary Historian to the British Institute of Radiology, and is a visiting professor at Canterbury Christ Church University.

    "The title of Adrian Thomas’s latest book is essentially a play on the title of Sylvanus Thompson the Victorian scientist’s book from 1897 ‘Light visible and invisible’.  Radiology historians will also be aware that ‘The Invisible Light’ is the title of the British Society for the History of Radiology’s in house journal which has been edited by Thomas for many years.

    The book is very much a personal account of the history of radiology and gives the author a chance to expand on his previous contributions in this field with extracts and references from previous books and contributions published previously in The Invisible Light and other places. The opening chapter covers the discovery of X-rays by Rontgen which leads on nicely to the next chapter on early radiology departments and the problems they faced. The chapter on radiology anatomy serves to remind us all about the importance of understanding the large variations in normal appearances in radiology practice which is a prerequisite for being able to identify pathology accurately.

    A chapter covers dangers which were inherent in early X-Ray departments including electrical and radiation injuries. The history of the early X Ray tubes and early plates and screens is of particular interest covering the progress from Crookes and Coolidge tubes through to modern PACS. The book also covers the development of contrast media and there are chapters on CT tomography and MRI.

    The final chapter concludes with thoughts on the future of imaging. The text is accompanied by black and white illustrations and useful references for further reading and there is a helpful index. The book is a welcome addition to the literature in this field."
    —Dr Arpan K Banerjee, Chair International Society for the History of Radiology (ISHRAD) for THE BRITISH SOCIETY FOR THE HISTORY OF RADIOLOGY


    "This book traces the evolution of medical imaging since Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays in 1895 to the digital era and the emergence of the speciality of radiology. The title alludes to an early description of X-rays. The subtitle sums up the journey from simple X-rays to MRI and the wide range of advances and personalities involved. The author is an acknowledged expert in the field, in addition to having experienced many of the changes at first hand as a working radiologist. Many images used in the book are from the author’s personal collection.

    There is a strong biographical element, an example being a whole chapter devoted to the women who played important roles in the establishment of medical imaging. Controversies associated with advances are part of the history and examples such as the attribution debate surrounding the invention of MRI are fully discussed. The transition from the analogue to the digital era is well described including the bewildering number of techniques that became obsolete due to advancing technology.

    This important book is likely to become a key reference source on the emergence of medical imaging. It will appeal to the radiological and wider medical and scientific community and for those who wish to ‘dip in’ for specific information. Some elements will appeal to the public, although the terminology and technical aspects may be challenging."

    —Michael Collins for the British Society for the History of Medicine, July 2022.

    “Histories of radiology often focus on Wilhelm Rontgen's discovery, frequently including the famous picture of his hand and ring. This book

    takes a more comprehensive approach, covering the whole history of radiology, from Rontgen, NMR, and MRI to the future of radiology's

    potential. Confronted with a recent increase of publications in the field, the author encourages readers to seek out older materials for themselves. The author aims to mainly consider the technical development of radiological sciences and the people involved. The book introduces readers to the world of radiological technologies, peoples, and literature. Radiologists, students of medical technology and the history of medicine, as well as historians of technique and visual arts will benefit from this book. At the same time, PhD candidates will benefit from the book's methodically conducted research, with its constant reference to the sources and its use of visual documentation.


    This is a monumental sum of information that deftly combines technical explanations on the principles and mechanisms of the different

    procedures for radiology developed through time. This book offers a simple and clear narrative about the actors of these technological

    advances and the medical results of all these investigative tools. The numerous illustrations add to the readability, making the results of

    radiological techniques clearly perceptible. The constant endnotes (footnotes would have been the better choice) add to the solidity of the

    presentation by referring both to the original publications and the analyses that have been made for each new development. As a result,

    this is a full archive of the history of radiography that handily covers the development of one of the most technologized forms of medicine,

    with its investigative results contributing to increased efficacy.”

    —Alain Touwaide, PhD (Ronin Institute) in Doody’s Core Titles Review 2023.

    “This excellent and wide-ranging book by recognised authority Dr Adrian Thomas, founder and previous president of the British Society for the History of Medicine and honorary historian to The British Institute of Radiology, among other roles, charts the development of the radiological sciences from Röntgen’s original discoveries to the current day. The recent centenary of Röntgen’s death reminds us how far their subsequent development has changed medicine.

    After discussing Röntgen’s discovery and early development of radiology and its inevitable acceleration after World War I, he considers the portrayal of radiology in popular culture, including films (often fascinated with x-ray vision), books (including descriptions of thankfully obsolete procedures such as air encephalography and direct carotid puncture for cerebral angiography), and art (for example Francis Bacon’s interest in x-rays and anatomy). Further chapters deal with the growing realisation of the dangerous effects of radiation after the initial enthusiasm and the expected time lag, the development of radiological anatomy (including bone age assessment), and radiographic equipment such as x-ray tubes and films. The birth and development of interventional radiology are covered, including the partnership of Charles Dotter and Bill Cook, who handmade and developed the first angiographic wires (from piano wire) and catheters, an early example of the fertile codevelopment of radiology with industry. Later innovations such as angioplasty balloons by Andreas Gruentzig and stents, by pioneers such as Julio Palmaz are also described. A subsequent chapter covers the development of tomography, starting as linear, then computed, particularly the growth in England with the work of Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, who had no undergraduate degree but was awarded six honorary degrees, and its rapid adoption by neuroradiologists in London. The persistent urban myth that royalties from The Beatles funded EMI’s research, although entertaining, is put to rest. The beginnings of MRI as nuclear MRI are covered, with Raymond Damadian and Paul Lauterbur credited with early developments, although controversially Damadian missed out on the Nobel Prize.

    A concluding chapter considers wider topics such as environmental impact, equitable access and future developments in radiology, and ends advising us to cultivate not just Sophia (theoretical knowledge), but also Phronesis (practical wisdom) – a timely reminder when we can test so easily. The book is well illustrated throughout, liberally referenced and well indexed. I can recommend to all interested in taking a wider perspective of radiology and imaging.”

    • Dr David Maudgil, consultant radiologist, Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, in RAD Magazine in November 2023.