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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A more sober look at Feynman
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)...
Published on January 14, 2006 by A reader

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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but a little too much science for the non-scientist
A year ago I bought "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" and loved it. I then read "What Do You Care What People Think?" and felt like I wanted to read more about Richard Feynman. This book goes into much detail about Feynman's life, especially his scientific theories. Feynman was truly a genius and someone that I admire very much.

However, as someone who is...
Published on November 4, 2010 by Koogan


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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A more sober look at Feynman, January 14, 2006
By 
A reader (Rocky Mountains USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Paperback)
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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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Biography, August 20, 2006
By 
sneaky-sneaky (Moscow on Hudson) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (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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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This red book is my Good Book (paperback versio is red), December 23, 2004
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (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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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Feynman, A Genius, April 17, 2006
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (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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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, Though a Lot Turns Up Missing, January 8, 2002
By 
R. Williams "code slubber" (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (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). Gleick leaves the only commentary on his role to Freeman Dyson, despite the fact that the scene is loaded with possibilities: Feynman setting aside the sheaths of a billion dollar, protected industry to reveal, through a failed experiment that an 8 year old could have performed, the culprit in what can only be called murder.
To his credit, Gleick does manage to allow a real person to emerge from behind the cliches. It's a remarkable reversal that in the beginning Feynman seems like a crude, cliche of a person who is going to set the world on fire, and at the end, though he didn't end up singlehandedly rewriting his realm of science, he did end up a wise, caustic, fearless contrarian.
Oppenheimer once said that it would take a modern Sophocles to write the history of the dawning of the quantum era. Gleick sets the scene but spares a lot of the drama, even though it seems like he secretly understands it all. Still a very powerful read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best scientific biography... ever?, November 27, 2010
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Paperback)
Feynman is a biographer's dream: super-humanly intelligent, yet grounded; an abstract thinker at the highest level who was able to connect with concrete analogies and "the common man"; devoted family man and sometime womanizer; legendary prankster with an overwhelming moral seriousness; and all the colorful anecdotes one can wish for.

Gleick's brilliance is not falling for the public persona. One can read Feynman's own biographies, which leave one with the feeling that he was a clown or boor. Gleick did the journeyman's work of ferreting out obscure documents -- including one of the most heart-rending imaginable, a love letter Feynmam wrote to his wife two years *after* she'd died -- interviewing endless people who knew Feynman, and piecing together a rich, time-bound narrative of not only the man, but the milieu around him. We see Feynman re-creating quantum chromodynamics, and learning to draw with his pal Jirayr Zorthian. We see nasty letters from jilted girlfriends, and testimonials from lifelong intimates. It's difficult to convey how NOT sensationalistic this is in Gleick's hands. He is a master integrator, as well as being among the least presumptuous prose stylists among biographers.

You'll learn a lot about science from the book, too, but it's not like being lectured to. It's fully integrated -- no, *woven* -- into the story line. Perhaps Gleick's greatest achievement here is his peerless ability to weave, balance, sustain, so many narrative strands in Feynman's life. It's that rare biography where you feel, at the end, that you did not only learn about the subject, but actually knew him (yes, that's a cliche, but it sticks).

[As for the question mark on the title of the review ("ever?"), this is because Robert Kanigel's bio of Ramanujan is very nearly on the same level. But that's about it, among biographies of scientists. At least in my experience.]
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but a little too much science for the non-scientist, November 4, 2010
By 
Koogan (Athens, GA USA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Paperback)
A year ago I bought "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" and loved it. I then read "What Do You Care What People Think?" and felt like I wanted to read more about Richard Feynman. This book goes into much detail about Feynman's life, especially his scientific theories. Feynman was truly a genius and someone that I admire very much.

However, as someone who is more interested in the person than the science, I found it difficult to stay completely interested. There are long, detailed discussions about Physics, and as another reviewer said, it becomes tedious to the layman. Then again, maybe I'm just a dope about science.

So I'm not knocking the book, because I am sure that many people with more interest in Feynman's science than his personality will love it. But if you're not going to enjoy long discussions on Physics, I'd stick with "Surely You're Joking..." or "What Do You Care...".
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorites, September 2, 2004
When I was in graduate school, this book was an inspiration. It remains one of my favorite biographies. Those who criticize Gleick for not understanding the physics have not read his other books, and do not understand his unique approach to science journalism. Like an impressionist painter he gives the 'feeling' of the science, through metaphors and simple examples, and then lets those examples motivate the character and emotional life of his subject. This isn't a book about science, but about the interaction between science and scientist. It actually reaches a crescendo about halfway through, when Gleick offers his personal meditation on genius. Given his more recent biography on Newton, one can see this theme running throughout his works: what is it that elevates the scientific genius from the masses? A true masterpiece.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just the life of Feynman, but Feynman's view of life., August 7, 1999
By 
M. Driscoll (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Paperback)
A man as brilliantly lucid as Richard Feynman deserves a biography equally brilliant and lucid. James Gleick achieves this. And though Richard Feynman is painted in human tones, the reader still experiences the mystique which surrounded this legend of science.
Some of the most enjoyable sections of this book deal not with physics or biography, but Feynman's philosophy and refreshingly rational worldview.
This book is a testament to the power and beauty of a great intellect, in its all its humanity.
My only reservation with this otherwise astounding book is that it was, at times, a bit too glowing and not critical enough. Feynman is presented as a scientific hero, but as we all know too well, even heros are not without their faults. As for these, as Feynman himself said, "it does no harm to the mystery to know a little about it."
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive guide, May 20, 2001
By 
Kwong Chan (East Lansing, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Paperback)
There are many books by and about Feynman. The quality of Gleick's research and writing makes this book more comprehensive than any other biography on Feynman and this book also explains many complex physics ideas and concepts in simple language. This book energises the lover of physics and bestows the ability to understand high level concepts to the layman. By all accounts this is what Feynman was about and this book is essential reading for both physicists and couch-scientists. Incidentally the only people I've met who don't like the book are physicists who don't like Feynman all that much! For everyone else, enjoy. I have 3 copies and I'm keeping every single one of them!
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Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman
Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick (Paperback - November 2, 1993)
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