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Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life (Vintage) [Paperback]

Leonard Mlodinow
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 29, 2011 0307946495 978-0307946492 Reprint
Some of the brightest minds in science have passed through the halls of the California Institute of Technology. In the early 1980s, Leonard Mlodinow joined their ranks to begin a postdoctoral fellowship. Afraid he was not smart enough to be there, despite his groundbreaking Ph.D. thesis, he took his insecurities to Richard Feynman, Caltech’s intimidating resident genius and iconoclast. So began a pivotal year in a young man’s life. Though a series of fascinating exchanges, Mlodinow and Feynman delve into the nature of science, creativity, love mathematics, happiness, God, art, pleasures and ambition, producing a moving portrait of a friendship and an affecting account of Feynman’s final creative years.

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Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life (Vintage) + The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives + Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (Vintage)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The late Nobel laureate Richard Feynman has been virtually canonized as the People's Physicist-an earthy, bongo-playing free spirit who delighted in puncturing the pomposity of the establishment. In this memoir, by ex-physicist and Star Trek writer Mlodinow, of a stint as a post-doctoral colleague of Feynman's at Caltech, the aging physicist still cracks wise, crashes parties, works on his physics at a strip joint and needles stuffed-shirt academics. Mlodinow was something of a Feynman-esque character himself-he liked to smoke pot with the garbage man next door and was working on a screenplay-so he turned to the older scientist for life lessons. And that's where this otherwise engaging book goes wrong, because, truth be told, Feynman was at his best only when talking about physics. Mlodinow taped many of their conversations, and transcribes them at length here, to the book's detriment. Feynman holds forth on the creative process, art and modern novels ("The few that I've looked at, I can't stand them"), but as far as insights go, platitudes like "Remember, it's supposed to be fun" (a thought inspired by the titular rainbow) are about as good as it gets. Fortunately, Mlodinow's accessible style manages to convey Feynman's cantankerous appeal as well as some of the weirdness of theoretical physics without overtaxing lay readers, while his deft, funny, novelistic portraits of its practitioners, like the (as portrayed here) toweringly pretentious and touchingly human Nobelist Murray Gell-Mann, bring this seemingly gray sub-culture to vivid life.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“An accessible portrait of a brilliant man.” —Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time

“A very unusual memoir of a very unusual author’s revealing encounters with a very human legend.” —The Dallas Morning News

“This is a sweetly entertaining book about the weird, but engaging, world of physics. . . . Young scientists will find solace and perhaps inspiration here.” —American Scientist
“Mlodinow’s tribute to the man is set against an amusing, nicely drawn backdrop of campus life, and fleshed out with a very readable account of string theory, which developed into the most promising breakthrough of the century in theoretical physics.” —The Independent (London)
“Mlodinow’s accessible style manages to convey Feynman’s cantankerous appeal as well as some of the weirdness of theoretical physics without overtaxing lay readers, while his deft, funny, novelistic portraits of its practitioners . . . bring this seemingly gray sub-culture to vivid life.” —Publishers Weekly
“An exhilarating book . . . one that reflects the radiance of its subject and so warms as it instructs.” —David Berlinski, author of One, Two, Three: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics
“Mlodinow thinks in equations but explains in anecdote, simile, and occasional bursts of neon. . . . The results are mind-bending.” —Fortune

Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307946495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307946492
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Leonard Mlodinow was born in Chicago, Illinois, received his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of California at Berkeley, and is the author of five best-sellers. His book The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives was a New York Times Bestseller, Editor's Choice, and Notable Book of the Year, and was short-listed for the Royal Society book award. His other books include two co-authored with physicist Stephen Hawking -- A Briefer History of Time, and The Grand Design. In addition to his books and research articles, he has taught at Caltech, written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Forbes magazine, among other publications, and for television series such as McGyver and Star Trek: the Next Generation. www.leonardmlodinow.com

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining May 11, 2003
Well, this book makes an evening of good reading. Feynman fans would instantly identify with his vintage mannerisms such as scorn for psychology and philosophy, showmanship and his wonder of nature. It contains Feynman's views of how a scientists life should be, how he must go about choosing problems and the emphasis that he must lay on his belief of his capabilities and the problems tractability.
But, more than all the above, this book is about the authors struggles with high expectations. He portrays the emotional lows that graduate students and fresh graduates undergo when they step out to the real world. It tells you that no matter how smart you are, which school you went to, or the quality of work you produce, there would always be moments of self doubt. Feynman himself faced such fallow times more than once, even after he won the Nobel.
Surprisingly, the author does not mention that Feynman went through exactly the same dilemma when he got out of Los Alamos. He was being offered positions with high salary from Berkeley, Institute of Advanced Study, Cornell etc. Feynman felt that he did not deserve these posts as he would not produce any good work any more in his life. How he got over this feeling is a wonderful story in itself.
Overall, I guess the book is worth buying if you are interested in the life of a scientist in general, especially a young one.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Advice to a Young Physicist August 13, 2003
There were plenty of famous physicists in the twentieth century, but none as endearing and downright funny as Richard Feynman. If you have ever read his wonderful memoir _Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!_, you know plenty about the humorous side of the serious physicist, the man who originated quantum electrodynamics as well as plenty of other accomplishments within his field, to say nothing of playing the bongos. Now there is an unusual memoir, a tribute from a young physicist who came within Feynman's orbit at Caltech in the early 1980s. _Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life_ (Warner Books) by Leonard Mlodinow gives us another snapshot of Feynman, which would always be welcome, but this one is special. Mlodinow was starting up to be an academic physicist, and got to get advice from Feynman on the task, as well as on what is important in life. Mlodinow presciently taped many of the sessions, and got around to transcribing them only recently. Feynman has lots to teach us still, even if we aren't physicists.
Part of the attraction of this little volume is that while it is about Feynman, it is also about Mlodinow's discomfort as a whiz kid brought in to work at Caltech. He was glad to get the appointment, but also intimidated. "These people at Caltech might actually expect something of me." He didn't know how to start, and floundered for months, until he decided to talk with Feynman, just down the hall, about what he thought about string theory. "Look," Feynman said dismissively, "If you really believed in string theory, you wouldn't come here asking me. You'd come here _telling_ me." The lesson was, find something you believe in and go to work. In Feynman's view, it wouldn't do to work on just anything.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Feynman on Life and the Joy of Physics July 17, 2005
Richard Feynman and Gell-Man Murray are two towering figures in 20th Century Physics. The book begins with the writer's arrival at Caltech as a fresh postdoc with a PhD from Berkeley in the 1980s. In this little autobiographical book, the author writes about his experiences at Caltech focusing on his interactions with Feynman and Murray - their characters and rivalry. Physics take a back seat in this book. Instead, the author attempts to tell a very human (and sometimes sad) story about himself, Feynman and Murray. I find this book interesting for two reasons. First, the author shares his experience about the insecurities that many PhD graduates have about their ability to do meaningful research work after the PhD (especially when one's PhD work was considered important enough to land a Caltech postdoc). Second, it provides a few glimpses of what Feynman and Murray were like at close range - human beings observed on a daily basis (and at their natural habitat). Overall, I cannot help but get the feeling that Feynman comes across as a more 'humane' person than Murray in this book. The writer doesn't apologize for his bias towards Feynman and he does gives examples of Murray's generosity (e.g. his support and belief on Schwartz who toiled for years with the String Theory). He repeatedly emphasizes on the different styles and outlook (life philosophy) of Feynman and Murray. Feynman is more interested in interesting problems and derives tremendous joy from doing physics. Murray, the smart one who revels in demonstrating his diverse knowledge. At the end, the writer favours Feynman's approach to life partly because of his own interests and inclination - towards writing. For it was Feynman who advocated the pursuit of things that truly brings joy. This is a book that would interest readers who enjoy reading about the lives of eminent scientists especially Feynman.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad book, but quite misleading February 21, 2004
By A Customer
This is a reasonable book. It is a good read, and it is entertaining, especially to those interested in the daily workings of a major physics departments. The advice Mlodinow received from Feynman on life and work is very useful to everyone who reads it.
However the book is also quite misleading. First, the title and back cover suggest strongly that this is a book about Feynman. It isn't. It is about a junior faculty member who on occasion would talk to Feynman. Second, the book itself goes into great detail describing the people at Caltech, but then has a disclaimer that except for the exact quotes from Feynman, most of the characters and stories are not accurate. Several people have been combined to produce characters, others sound fictional.
The third criticism is that Mlodinow hypes himself too much. Throughout the book he talks about his great research into infinit dimensions and quantum optics. He talks about being well known for his graduate thesis, and for correcting mistakes in well known theories. However amongst other physicists who were active at the time, almost no one has actually heard of him. And looking through citations in research papers from the era reveal very few references to his work.
It is worth reading, but as a biography of Mlodinow, not as an accurate historical portrayal of Feynman, Gell-Mann, or Caltech.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Feynmans Rainbow
Haven't had a chance to read it and have it on the shelf for future reading this coming winter. Have heard the author talk on NPR and became interested!
Published 18 days ago by Gregory Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars All about Feynman.
Anything about Feynman is interesting. Some insight into the world of some very smart people. Quick read and worth the time.
Published 1 month ago by Bernard Appel
5.0 out of 5 stars Even physicists feel "burn out"
I enjoyed Mlodinow's personal, psychological stories--the very thing Feynman didn't. I will always remember Mlodinow saying that the night before his first day at Caltech reminded... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joe Stoner
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Gem of a Book
This book has defined me more than most books have. Oddly enough, I was looking for the Feynman Lectures when I came across it at my school's library. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Davis Hunt
3.0 out of 5 stars Full of the angst of a very bright young person getting into a...
This book is about what happened to Leonard Mlodinow when he started a post-doc fellowship in physics at Cal-Tech in the early 1980's. It should have been a super-cushy deal. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Roger Manning
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but more autobiographical
I thought that the book was very interesting, and being an aspiring physicist myself, it was helpful for me to learn the culture of the physics world (or at least what it used to... Read more
Published 18 months ago by 112358
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
A short but passionate, humanizing read; not so much a biography as a story about the fateful interaction between a young, adrift soul and the wisened spirit of Richard Feynman.
Published 20 months ago by Comrade
5.0 out of 5 stars Feynman's Rainbow
I'm not a physicist but have been a long-time fan of Feynman's writings for lay people.
And I've become a fan of Mlodinow over the last couple of years, starting with... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Les
5.0 out of 5 stars A real life "Big Bang Theory"
This is a worthy effort by a "former" physicist. Mlodinow is a postdoc at Caltech in the early 80s who is struggling with the age old question "what should I do with my life"? Read more
Published on June 15, 2012 by R. J. McCabe
4.0 out of 5 stars A good quick read
I liked this book. It is obviously not about Feynman. It does provide an insight into scientific discovery and a different perspective on Feynman. Read more
Published on June 2, 2012 by Michael B. Chapman
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