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Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman Paperback – November 2, 1993

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Editorial Reviews Review

If you've read any of Richard Feynman's wonderful autobiographies you may think that a biography of Feynman would be a waste of your time. Wrong! Gleick's Genius is a masterpiece of scientific biography--and an inspiration to anyone in pursuit of their own fulfillment as a person of genius. Deservedly nominated for a National Book Award, underservedly passed over by the committee in the face of tough competition, and very deservedly a book that you must read.

From Publishers Weekly

It would be hard to tell personal stories about the late Nobelist Feynman (1918-1988) better than the subject himself did in What Do You Care What Other People Think? To his credit, Gleick does not try. Rather, he depicts Feynman's "curious character" in its real context: the science he helped develop during physics' most revolutionary era. Fans of Feynman's own bestseller, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! , " won't be disappointed by his colleagues' recollections of his reckless obsession with doing science (a grad-school dorm neighbor once opened Feynman's door to find him rolling on the floor as he worked on a problem); but the anecdotes punctuate an expanded account of Feynman the visceral working scientist, not Feynman the iconoclast. This biography wants to measure both the particle and the wave of 20th-century genius--Feynman's, Julian Schwinger's, Murray Gell-Mann's, and others'--in the quantum era. Gleick seems to have enjoyed the cooperation of Feynman's family plus that of a good many of his colleagues from the Manhattan Project and the Challenger inquiry (in which Feynman played a scene-stealing role), and he steadily levies just enough of the burden of Feynman's genius on the reader so that the physicist remains, in the end, a person and not an icon of science. A genius could not hope for better. Gleick is the author of Chaos: The Making of A New Science.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 531 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 2, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679747044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679747048
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

James Gleick was born in New York and began his career in journalism, working as an editor and reporter for the New York Times. He covered science and technology there, chronicling the rise of the Internet as the Fast Forward columnist, and in 1993 founded an Internet startup company called The Pipeline. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

His home page is at, and on Twitter he is @JamesGleick.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 88 people found the following review helpful By A reader on January 14, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Many accounts of Feynman read as a sequence of gee-whiz feats of dazzling theatricality. Gleick's take on him is more measured. The author nevertheless manages to capture the irreverent spirit and ebullient persona of this larger-than-life physicist while using everyday language to describe the latter's brilliant contributions to quantum electrodynamics (QED).

Throughout the book, Gleick gives us many instances that showcase Feynman's lifelong refusal to abide by what he considered pointless or hypocritical social norms. He carried over this unorthodoxy to his work, often coming up with approaches often considered bizzarre by his peers, to deal with the conundrums of QED.

In deft language and simple analogies, Gleick outlines the developments of quantum mechanics until Feynman's time. The author them goes on to describe the renormalization approach of Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga that offered an ingenious method of removing the puzzling self-interaction terms that would otherwise lead to infinite (unphysical) field quantities.

In chronicling Feynman's life, Gleick gives us vivid vignettes of the physicist's encounters with the other luminaries in his field, his refusal to accept anything unquestioningly, the sheer energy, originality and versatality with which he approached every aspect of his life and his often messy and volatile relationships with women. Paying tribute to Feynman's genius while portraying the many aspects of this brilliant persona is a daunting task; Gleick has risen to the monumental challenge with grace and profound insight.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By sneaky-sneaky VINE VOICE on August 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
There are a couple of biographies that ascend beyond the level of our expectations, William Manchester's two-volume biography of Churchill is one, and "Genius" is another. Dick Feynman makes a biographer's work easier, the depth of his character, genius, and humor are limitless. Physicist Richard Feynman was also an accomplished safecracker, the inventor of QED (quantum electrodynamics), and whatever he turned his hand to, be it bongo drums or painting, the results were invariably immortalized in museums or symphony orchestras. Feynman famously dipped an O-Ring into ice water to demonstrate the cause of the Challenger disaster, and estimated the kilotonnage yielded at the Trinity test by observing the displacement of a handful of shredded paper.

Feynman was no slouch as a writer himself, penning "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman", "Adventures of a Curious Character", and "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out." James Gleick has written a number of books, beginning with "Chaos" a good introduction to the science, and he has progressed as a writer to works like "Faster", "What Just Happened", and "Isaac Newton." A finalist for the National Book Award, "Genius" is Gleick's finest work and undeservedly missed out.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Eduardo Antico on December 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is the only book I will ever give 5 stars, because reading it is a spiritual experience. It came from my old supervisor's library collection and later I purchased my own copy.

Gleick's conception of physics is quite accurate, and his writing style is sufficiently colourful, that this is one of the few books I always go back for passages. His writing of Feymann, his colleagues, and certain events are almost like reading a novel, adding charm to the otherwise blend perception to the world of science.

More importantly, it is Gleick's portrayal of Feymann as human -- with flaws, feelings, friends and enemies -- than a mystical figure, that makes it wonderful to read as a biography. He made no attempt to glorify his achievements, nor did he praise his talents. This, I find, a very humble gesture.

In fact, this is such an impact to me, when I finished reading this book, I decided to quit work and persue my Ph.D., which I am doing now.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Math kid on April 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
In Genius by James Gleick, the author writes a complete biography of Richard Feynman, spanning his entire life and achievements. Richard Feynman went to MIT and then Princeton, helped create the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, and worked at Cornell and Caltech. He was a very imaginative thinker with new, creative ideas. His work with quantum electrodynamics won him a Nobel Prize. He had to overcome the death of his wife and had to acknowledge that his friend at Los Alamos was a Russian spy. The author was compelled to recount the story because Richard Feynman was a very interesting man with a lively personality who was also a genius. He also had a very interesting life. The book not only discusses Feynman's life, but his contemporaries' lives as well. It brings the world of cutting-edge physics to the average person, in language that they can understand. Someone would be compelled to read this book because it has enough science for those that are interested, at the same time having enough human interaction for someone who does not have a science background. The book presents Feynman on a very personal, human level. He had a charismatic personality, an exciting life, and made great contributions to the field of science.
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53 of 67 people found the following review helpful By R. Williams VINE VOICE on January 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
If getting people to turn pages was the only measure of a writer, Gleick would be at the top of his craft; I ripped through this book in 3 days (and likewise found Chaos very compelling). But, alas, there are other considerations and for me, the most curious thing about this book is the degree to which the author sets the table and serves a burning meal then leaves most the courses half eaten.
For instance, you would think from the title, that you were also in for a discourse on the concept and/or practice of genius. Instead, predictable anecdotal information comes along (more often than not reinforcing the cliche rather than an individual experience of genius) and then, when the author decides to take up the topic, he makes a few remarks about the geneology of the concept, tries to talk about Mozart in a way that borders on hamhanded (while it also produced an unfortunate flashback to surely one of the most banal treatises on genius: Amadeus) and then after a few other observations, he moves on. The title seems to promise the cliche, but the wonderful quixotic image that emerges from the long course of Feynman's life is rather the retreat of the concept. As the most likely Einstein of his generation, Feynman ended up making significant contributions, but certainly fell far short of the previous generation's measure of genius: general relativity. Instead whole hordes of people pushed the ball forward little by little into the quantum age and Feynman ironically became one of the ones who defied the belief in a grail that would unlock all the secrets.
The other part that seemed truly neglected was the final scene when Feynman served on the Challenger committee (shortly before his death).
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