The laser--a milestone invention of the mid-twentieth century--quickly captured the imagination of the Pentagon as the key to the ultimate weapon. Veteran science writer Jeff Hecht tells the inside story of the adventures and misadventures of scientists and military strategists as they exerted Herculean though often futile efforts to adapt the laser for military uses. From the 1950s' sci-fi vision of the "death ray," through the Reagan administration's "Star Wars" missile defense system, to more promising developments today, Hecht provides an entertaining history. As the author illustrates, there has always been a great deal of enthusiasm and false starts surrounding lasers. He describes a giant laser that filled a Boeing 747, lasers made from rocket engines, plans for an orbiting fleet of robotic laser battle stations to destroy nuclear missiles, claims that nuclear bombs could produce intense X-ray laser beams, and a scheme to bounce laser beams off giant orbiting relay mirrors. Those far-out ideas remain science fiction. Meanwhile, in civilian sectors, the laser is already being successfully used in fiber optic cables, scanners, medical devices, and industrial cutting tools. Now those laser cutting tools are leading to a new generation of laser weapons that just might stop insurgent rockets. Replete with interesting characters, bizarre schemes, and wonderful inventions, this is a well-told tale about the evolution of technology and the reaches of human ambition.