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The Character of Physical Law (Messenger Lectures, 1964) Paperback – 2001

47 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262560030 ISBN-10: 0262560038 Edition: Name written on Cover

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Editorial Reviews

Review

...Fascinating...an insight into the thought processes of a great physicist.

About the Author

One of the most eminent and imaginative modern physicists, Richard Feynman was Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology until his death in 1988. He is best known for his work on the quantum theory of the electromagnetic field, as well as for his later research in the field of low-temperature physics. In 1954 he received the Albert Einstein Award for his "outstanding contribution to knowledge in mathematical and physical sciences"; in 1965 he was appointed to Foreign Membership in the Royal Society and was awarded the Nobel Prize.
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Product Details

  • Series: Messenger Lectures, 1964
  • Paperback: 173 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Name written on Cover edition (2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262560038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262560030
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Every time I return to this book I pick up on more of Feynman's explanations. From almost beginning to understand angular momentum, to getting a feel for gravity, and how many laws have been integrated. For a novice at physics but with a keen interest this book gives an excellent background and, for me, is a joy to read each time, I can almost hear Feynman making his lectures and sharing jokes with his students. Each time I come away from reading this book I find myself pondering more about various aspects of physics and get a clearer idea of other books to buy to continue my current hobby of understanding the way the universe works just a little better (hopefully anyway :)
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69 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Paul A. Jackson on September 11, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is yet another book that attempts to convey the essence of physics to common people. After explaining exactly why it can't be done, arguing that you'll never get it, Feynman goes right ahead and does it anyway.
For each topic, you get a feel for his goal in covering a topic. He explains gravity, yes, to explain gravity, but also because by explaining it he can also convey what essential properties gravity has that other laws have.
He also explains the difference between fundamental laws and the consequences of those laws. That the individual laws are reversible, but that probability is responsible for the arrow of time. He spends a lot of time showing the difficult relationship between the basic laws (which are reversible) and the irreversibility of events. Both are characteristics of the physical universe but the latter is not a fundamental law. The latter is a logical outcome of them.
So there's a hierarchy, which goes; fundamental laws like gravity at the ground level, consequences of them like irreversibility and surface tension at one level up, organic chemistry further up, then eventually concepts like tree, frog, man, pain, beauty, good and evil - each at a higher level, but based upon the levels below them, and difficult to fully predict using only the laws of the lower levels. The levels can be extended up and down. Below gravity is the unification theory of everything. Above good and evil are love, politics, etc.
And then he asks, of the extremes on this hierarchy, the fundamental laws and the most abstract concepts, which is closest to God? After asking for patience with his religious reference, he spends little time before revealing his belief that the question is flawed.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Esther Nebenzahl on September 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
One the greatest theoretical physicists and popular lecturer, Feynman expresses his view on the puzzles, controversies, and problems at the core of physical theory. He uses as an example the law of gravitation to show that despite the simplicity of physical laws, they are not exact, there is always a mystery, always a place where there is further work to be done, so "scientists must stick their heads out." And what is most remarkable is not what scientists have been able to discover, but what nature has taught us. Feynman stresses the importance of mathematics as the key to any system of scientific laws (mathematics is more than just a language, it is language plus logic). This is a series of lecturers to be read preferably by those individuals who have a solid background in physics, otherwise you may find your neurons will not know in which direction they should fire! As Paul Davis rightly says: "theoretical physics is one the hardest of human endeavors, combining as it does subtle and abstract concepts that normally defy visualizations with a technical complexity that is impossible to master in its entirety." Feynman did have the genius to deal with it!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. C. Flowers on January 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is apparently a nearly verbatim account of 7 Feynman lectures given at Cornell in the early 60s and is a short (but good) book. The level of these lectures was not highly technical so consequently a wide audience should find the book very readable. Of particular interest is the discussion of the way new physical laws are arrived at by scientists. Just be aware that as with other Feynman books every sentence packs non-trivial meaning so this is not a light read. It is a fun read especially for Feynman enthusiasts.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By OverTheMoon on September 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is not one of the most popular Feynman books you can get but it is a short introduction to physics along with Feynman's way of helping people to learn about it. While I wouldn't have this on my list of first Feynman books to get (or physics books for that matter) if you do find it and have an interest in physics then by all means, pick it up.

The book is a collection of Lectures Feynman made. He deals with seven topics in fewer than 200 pages. The topics are.

1) Gravitation
2) Mathematics and physics
3) The conservation of energy
4) Symmetry
5) The arrow of time
6) Quantum mechanics
7) How to find new laws

Feynman brings a lot to the table in such a small space of time. His examples are usually quite good but some are hit and miss. It was written in 1965 and while most of it is still valid (it is missing over 50 years of physics!) you may find that you can learn about these topics better elsewhere... and that's really the catch. However, I would certainly say you can learn a lot here and the point of getting this book is to get Feynman's take on these subjects. He is still as good today as he was back then.

I wouldn't say that if this was your first time coming across physics that Feynman is too advanced, as this book and Feynman's lectures are designed for any audience with an interest in physics, but that is not to say that it is easy. In fact Feynman goes out of his way to explain that it is hard because it is so counterintuitive. I would say though that if you could get a modern book on cosmology that you will get a better introduction to these topics. In fact several books on cosmology would have you better prepared but in the end you are probably going to want to read Feynman.
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The Character of Physical Law (Messenger Lectures, 1964)
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