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Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman Hardcover – International Edition, April 5, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 486 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738206369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738206363
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Finding out about someone by reading their correspondence is a fundamentally different thing than reading their biography. Letters offer both more intimacy with the subject and at the same time a crucial distance--the exact distance the letter-writer intended from the people to whom he was writing. In Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, Michelle Feynman collects her famous father's letters to reveal a warm, honest man with high expectations for himself, his loved ones, and the human race. Long before Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize, he was a smart, skinny graduate student at Princeton, writing letters to his mother and relating the mundane details of college life. "Dear Mom.... The raincoat came O.K. It is very nice," he writes. By the time he finished his Ph.D., Feynman had fallen for Arline Greenbaum, who had already been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Their tragically short marriage is set in letters against Feynman's first job--working on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Even while working on top secret physics, Feynman was an enthusiastic correspondent, jumping eagerly at the chance to encourage a young scientist, correct a public misperception, or tell a goofy joke to his family. Self-effacing, charmingly down to earth, and occasionally cranky, these letters cover Feynman's entire career, although in the fits and starts one would expect from a collection such as this. His own words to students, spouses, daughters, and fellow scientists reveal Feynman's brilliance far more effectively than any biographical lens ever could. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Richard Feynman (1918–1988) has become an American scientific icon. He won the Nobel prize for physics in 1965 for his work on quantum electrodynamics; he became a bit of a television star with his shows explaining physical phenomena in readily understandable terms; and he became the hero of the federal committee investigating the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger when he demonstrated how O rings could fail under cold conditions. He was known as brash and iconoclastic, and a fabulous teacher. This collection of letters edited by Feynman's daughter presents brief glimpses into various facets of his personal and professional lives. Covering the years 1939 to 1987, the letters provide some insight into daily life during the Manhattan Project; others offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Challenger investigation. They also show Feynman to be a thoughtful educator, willing to write back to high school students asking for guidance in selecting a career and understanding physics. The energetic if decidedly colloquial prose underscores Feynman's exuberant nature and self-deprecating sense of humor, as well as his self-described "peculiarity" when he tried to resign from the National Academy of Sciences because he found it "psychologically distasteful to judge people's 'merit.' " 60 b&w photos. Agent, Melanie Jackson.$125,000 national marketing campaign.(Apr. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Richard P. Feynman was born in 1918 and grew up in Far Rockaway, New York. At the age of seventeen he entered MIT and in 1939 went to Princeton, then to Los Alamos, where he joined in the effort to build the atomic bomb. Following World War II he joined the physics faculty at Cornell, then went on to Caltech in 1951, where he taught until his death in 1988. He shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965, and served with distinction on the Shuttle Commission in 1986. A commemorative stamp in his name was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2005.

Customer Reviews

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It is very entertaining, amusing and interesting.
egomez87
This is an excellent book that gives a compelling portrait of a great scientist, a fascinating personality, a decent human being.
Dave Tolle
If you wish to get to know a person, read their letters, I say.
Joseph Stembler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Dave Tolle on August 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book that gives a compelling portrait of a great scientist, a fascinating personality, a decent human being. But it is a long book and gives far too much detail for anyone with a merely casual interest in Richard Feynman. Nearly 500 pages of letters to and from Feynman could either captivate you or bore you, depending on your level of interest. I was captivated. I wish I had known him personally; this book has reinforced that wish, and has partially satisfied it.

Feynman was single-minded in his devotion to science: "This [physics research] is, in my mind, of even more importance than my love for Arline" (his first wife). Yet he was surely loving and devoted to her, as is particularly clear in a heart-breaking letter he wrote to Arline after her death.

He was willing to correspond with ordinary people---particularly young people and teachers---about science, giving them good advice about what science is and how it should be studied and how it should be taught. "Stay human and on your pupil's side" was one bit of advice he gave to a mathematics teacher struggling to help his students with "new math." "You must fall in love with some activity" was a recurring theme in his advice to young people.

Feynman even responded to at least one crank (who accused Feynman and others of suppressing the crank's views on relativity), pressing him respectfully but persistently to answer a simple question that got to the heart of the scientific issue. (He evidently never got an answer.)

He refused all offers of honorary degrees, as a matter of principle, knowing how hard he had worked to get his earned degree.
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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Nikitas Liogkas on March 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
Before reading this book, I had read both the classic "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman", and its sequel, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?". In my opinion, all three books are well worth reading, but, interestingly, for different reasons each.

The first book contains several intriguing stories, mainly from Feynman's personal life, which are entertaining in their own right, but also provide insight into the personality of this unique individual. Highly recommended! The second book starts off in a similar spirit, but concludes with a more serious discussion of the Challenger accident investigation. Not as entertaining, but still interesting.

This book is simply a collection of letters to and from Feynman throughout his lifetime. As such, some of the letters, lacking background knowledge, can feel a bit out of place at times. However, having a general framework of reference from the other two books, I found this one much more revealing in details about Feynman's character than any of the two other books. However, I'm not sure how much I would have gotten out of it if this had been my first Feynman book. Thus, I would strongly recommend you read at least "Surely You're Joking" before you pick this one up.

Overall, the value of this book lies in bringing together different stories we have read about in the two other books, giving us a warm and fuzzy feeling of closure. Many of the letters describe the behind-the-scenes personal details missing from the somewhat neutral story descriptions in the first two books, thereby completing the picture of this "curious character".
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76 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Stembler on April 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I am an avid reader of letters written by the famous and intelligent--TH Jefferson, Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Einstein, JRR Tolkien, Mozart--to name a few. If you wish to get to know a person, read their letters, I say.

I am also a fan of Richard Feynman. I voraciously read "Surely Your Joking Mr. Feynman!" and "What do You Care What Other People Think?".

So, when my friend accidentally found "Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From The Beaten Track: The Letters Of Richard P. Feynman" at Borders bookstore, my eyes opened wide and my heart skipped a beat! Had someone edited a new book of collected letters written by Feynman himself? My two favorite mediums--Letters and Feynmanisms--in one wonderful book.

Thank the editors! They have amassed a treasure indeed. Here you will be able to get to know with even greater depth, the man that is Richard Feynman. A must have for all Feynman lovers across the globe!
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By M. Waldhoer on April 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I have read everything out there that has ever been published from/about Richard Feynman.

This book consisting of letters to and from this sharp, funny, sensistive and most curious human being is yet the most personal. Thank you, Michelle Feynman, for reading through mountains of paperwork and putting together such a wonderful book. These letters make you wonder, think, sometimes even cry -but most of all, laugh!!!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Javier Álvarez on May 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With this new book collecting Richard Feynman's correspondence, you won't only better know about a Nobel laureate physicist, but you will be able to appreciate the deepest insight, knowledge and inspiration of an honest man. From his first beloved wife or the Manhattan project to motivation and good understanding of Physics. I have loved Feynman since I first read one of R. Leighton books when I was a teenager, he inspired and encouraged me a lot and since I had a great interest in Science I eventually fell in love with Physics, which I'm studying know, thanks to him. Besides, his wise guide helped me out to understand life better and cope with difficulties, mostly tackling problems à-la Feynman. This book is worth reading and it's quite big with hardcover so the price is quite great!

Everybody interested in Feynman biography and character cannot miss this chance to meet him at his most personal book for which we all should thank his daughter Michelle Feynman. THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR MAKING THE WORLD WISER ABOUT A GREAT SCIENTIST AND HUMAN BEING.
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