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)
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