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Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (Great Discoveries) [Hardcover]

Lawrence M. Krauss
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 21, 2011 0393064719 978-0393064711 1St Edition

A gripping new scientific biography of the revered Nobel Prize–winning physicist (and curious character).

Perhaps the greatest physicist of the second half of the twentieth century, Richard Feynman changed the way we think about quantum mechanics, the most perplexing of all physical theories. Here Lawrence M. Krauss, himself a theoretical physicist and best-selling author, offers a unique scientific biography: a rollicking narrative coupled with clear and novel expositions of science at the limits. An immensely colorful persona in and out of the office, Feynman revolutionized our understanding of nature amid a turbulent life. Krauss presents that life—from the death of Feynman’s childhood sweetheart during the Manhattan Project to his reluctant rise as a scientific icon—as seen through the science, providing a new understanding of the legacy of a man who has fascinated millions. An accessible reflection on the issues that drive physics today, Quantum Man captures the story of a man who was willing to break all the rules to tame a theory that broke all the rules.

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Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (Great Discoveries) + A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Physicist Richard Feynman has a reputation as a bongo-playing, hard-partying, flamboyant Nobel Prize laureate for his work on quantum electrodynamics theory, but this tends to obscure the fact that he was a brilliant thinker who continued making contributions to science until his death in 1988. He foresaw new directions in science that have begun to produce practical applications only in the last decade: nanotechnology, atomic-scale biology like the manipulation of DNA, lasers to move individual atoms, and quantum engineering. In the 1960s, Feynman entered the field of quantum gravity and created important tools and techniques for scientists studying black holes and gravity waves. Author Krauss (The Physics of Star Trek), an MIT-trained physicist, doesn't necessarily break new ground in this biography, but Krauss excels in his ability, like Feynman himself, to make complicated physics comprehensible. He incorporates Feynman's lectures and quotes several of the late physicist's colleagues to aid him in this process. This book is highly recommended for readers who want to get to know one of the preeminent scientists of the 20th century.
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Review

“Engaging…. Krauss explains scientific material in a clear, lively style that would have earned Feynman’s approval…. A worthy addition to the Feynman shelf and a welcome follow-up to the standard-bearer, James Gleick’s Genius.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Lawrence Krauss's wonderful biography manages to combine a rolling narrative with a crystal clear explanation of Richard Feynman's science. Its lively descriptions make both electromagnetism and quantum mechanics fun, while Krauss's personal reflections on his subject add a new level of insight into the man and his scientific legacy. Quantum Man is a masterpiece.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe)

“Such a charismatic figure deserves a charismatic, knowledgeable, and literate physicist as his warts-and-all biographer. Lawrence Krauss fits the bill admirably and rises to the challenge with style, panache, and deep understanding.” (Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth)

“Seamlessly entwining colorful episodes of physics’ most ‘curious character’ with wonderfully clear descriptions of Feynman’s penetrating breakthroughs in quantum theory, Krauss’s account is both entertaining and masterly. A great read.” (Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality and The Elegant Universe)

“A lively and engrossing biography of a lively and engrossing man. Krauss recounts the life and ideas of one of the century’s greatest scientist with a deep understanding of both the physics and the man, presented with great lucidity and charm.” (Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works)

Product Details

  • Series: Great Discoveries
  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (March 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393064719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393064711
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in New York City and shortly afterward moved to Toronto, spending my childhood in Canada. I received undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics from Carleton University, and my Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982.

After a stint in the Harvard Society of Fellows, I became an assistant professor at Yale University in 1985 and Associate Professor in 1988. I moved in 1993 to become Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, professor of astronomy, and Chairman of the Physics Department at Case Western Reserve University In August 2008 I joined the faculty at Arizona State University as Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Director of the University's Origins Initiative. In 2009 we inaugurated this this initiative with the Origins Symposium [www.origins.asu.edu] in which 80 of the world's leading scientists participated, and 3000 people attended.

I write regularly for national media, including The New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, Scientific American (for which I wrote a regular column last year), and other magazines, as well as doing extensive work on radio and television. I am strongly committed to public understanding of science, and have helped lead the national effort to preserve sound science teaching, including the teaching of evolution. I also served on Barack Obama's 2008 Presidential campaign science policy committee. In 2008 I became co-chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and in 2010 was elected to the Board of Directors of the Federation of American Scientists.

I became a scientist in part because I read books by other scientists, such as Albert Einstein, George Gamow, Sir James Jeans, etc, when I was a child, and my popular writing returns the favor. One of my greatest joys is when a young person comes up to me and tells me that one of my books motivated them to become a scientist.

I believe science is not only a vital part of our culture, but is fun, and I try and convey that in my books and lectures. I am honored that Scientific American referred to me as a rare scientific public intellectual, and that all three three major US Physics Societies: the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics, have seen fit to honor me with their highest awards for research and writing.

My research focuses on the beginning and end of the Universe. Among my contributions to the field of cosmology, I helped lead the search for dark matter, and first proposed the existence of dark energy in 1995.

When I have the chance, I love to mountain bike, fly fish, and scuba dive. I spend a tremendous amount of time on planes now, alas, and enjoy flying, but hate airports..

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
182 of 187 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Separating the man and his science from the legend March 3, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I still remember the day when, as a kid, I first came across the irrepressible Richard Feynman's memoirs "Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman". Within a few hours I was laughing so hard that tears were coming out of my eyes. Whether he was fixing radios 'by thinking', devising novel methods of cutting string beans in a restaurant or cracking the safes at Los Alamos, Feynman was unlike any scientist I had ever come across. Feynman died in 1988 and James Gleick's engaging and masterful biography of him appeared in 1993. Jagdish Mehra's dense, authoritative scientific biography came out in 1996. Since then there has been a kind of "Feynman industry" in the form of tapes, books, transcripts, interviews and YouTube video clips. While this has kept Feynman alive, it has also turned him into a kind of larger-than-life legend who is more famous in the public mind for his pranks and other exploits than for his science. Most laymen will tell you that Feynman was a brilliant scientist but would be hard-pressed to tell you what he was famous for. It's time that we were again reminded of what most contributed to Richard Feynman's greatness- his science. Lawrence Krauss's biography fulfills this role. You could think of Gleick's biography as a kind of Renaissance painting, an elaborate piece of work where he gets everything accurate down to the eyebrows of the men, women and Gods. Krauss's biography is more like the evocative impressionistic art of the French masters, more of a lucid sketch that brings out the essence of Feynman the scientist.

The biography is essentially aimed at explaining Feynman's scientific contributions, their relevance, importance and uniqueness. Thus Krauss wisely avoids pondering over oft-repeated details about Feynman's personal life.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential Feynman book March 22, 2011
Format:Hardcover
I'm an engineer. Over the years I have probably read all the popular books by and about Feynman, and like many others with an interest in physics I own his three volume 'Feynman Lectures on Physics'. I knew I had to buy this little book, when in a bookstore I opened it to a random spot and in a few seconds learned something new about Feynman. (Did I say 'little', well that was my first impression and the pages are small, but there are 320 of them.)

For years I have read about the principle of 'least action' and knew it was one of the keys to Feynman's work, but I never really understood it. Krauss's writing is so clear (even sans equations, or maybe because of it) I now understand the concept, so from this book I am not only learning a little more about Feynman, I am learning some physics too.

This is a biography that focuses on Feynman's technical work. Krauss is not a science writer, though he has done a lot of writing, he is a top rank theoretical physicist, author of 300 papers, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State Univ. I'm so impressed by this book, even though I am now only 20% into it, I had to write to tell Feynman fans ... Buy this book!
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great addition to the Feynman bookshelf March 2, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This new volume, very well written by one of the best popular authors on physics, fills a gap in the Feynman bookshelf. At one end is the best biography of Feynman, "Genius" by James Gleick, which includes much personal history. At the other, "QED", by Sylvan Schweber, which covers the entire sweep of the work by Feynman, Dyson, Schwinger, Tomonaga and others on quantum electrodynamics, the centerpiece of Feynman's legacy.

Krauss writes a mainly scientific biography, and manages to cover this work without mathematical detail, but with well-chosen technical illustrations, which give the flavor of the work. Gleick provides much more on the personal life, and if you have the background, Schweber will fill in the details of QED. (If you want more background on Feynman diagrams, beyond the very good introduction in this book, I recommend "Drawing Theories Apart" by David Kaiser.)

Of course one must also read Feynman's own popular writings, both his own and those co-authored, and at the undergraduate level I wish I had his "Lectures on Physics" when I was a student in the early 1950's.

The new Krauss book definitely deserves 5 stars.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Scientific Biography March 23, 2011
Format:Hardcover
I'm a big fan of Feynman and have read most of many biographies of him and read through his more technical stuff (Feynman Lectures on Gravitation, computation, statistical mechanics, and of course the lectures on physics) so I was a bit confused as to what more could be said. I was pleasantly surprised by this little (320 pages but large font) book that is not a biography of Feynman but a biography of the ideas he had. And he had many ideas!

The other reviews describe my thoughts quite well and I give it five stars for being an excellent scientific biography. It clarified a lot of what I'd heard about the ideas Feynman did and much of the historical context - I always knew Dyson was integral in QED but never quite understood what he did exactly.

My only qualm would be that the lay reader might have a challenge getting through this. My background is in physics so it made for a light read as most of the concepts I had encountered before and understand fairly well. Krauss is not afraid to use technical language (I don't think I've read a popular science book that drops the word Lagrangian so casually) and many of the concepts in this book are first encountered by physics majors at a graduate level (of course in their full glorious mathematical detail) so don't be surprised if you're re-reading sections over and over again to try and understand what is going. Saying that, the explanations are very lucid (for me at least) and well thought out.

I highly recommend this book to any aspiring physics major or working physicist. The section on Wheeler-Feynman theory is quite nifty and I've never seen it presented so clearly elsewhere. For the layman, be warned that this book is not as light-hearted and easy as Feynman's other non-technical work and can't just be read in passing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars There goes a really smart guy.
must read for anyone interested in contemporary science…..
it is not merely a biography and/or as assessment of Feynman's place in the firmament of 20th century Physics, it is... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Norma Manna Blum
5.0 out of 5 stars Great bio of Feynman
I was thinking, why another Feynman bio? But Krauss does do a very good job in walking us through Feynman's amazing contributions to science. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Tom Mozdzen
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book by a Good Author
I bought this book because I was very impressed by Krauss' excellent book, "A Universe from Nothing. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Night Eagle
5.0 out of 5 stars Feynman explored!
Krauss went beyond most biographies of scientists by opening the door into Richard Feynman's struggle for meaning in life. Read more
Published 2 months ago by R. Baldwin
5.0 out of 5 stars God bless him.
Richard Feynman's life is as interesting as it gets. This little known genius is an American hero and deserves more attention in our history than he has received.
Published 3 months ago by Ron Raffaelli
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read About a Great Physicist
Krauss shares many of the same beliefs and disbeliefs as Feynman. This is a good book about the things that Feynman got right. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Richard H. Wachsman
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice But Flawed
Feynman was a fascinating fellow, so I was very interested to dig-deeper into his life. I felt a biography written by an accomplished physicist was an ideal choice, as the author... Read more
Published 6 months ago by craigr1971
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny conductor of quantum world
Lawrence M. Krauss is drawing fine lines. This enjoyable book let you dive into the very special space of quants and into the very special lifestyle of a genius scientist.
Published 6 months ago by Antti Paloheimo
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary mind
It is difficult to imagine what the state of physics would be without Richard Feynman" extraordinary mind. Read more
Published 8 months ago by John Sheehan
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Bio-Science Combination
The book is well written, easy to read without being overly complicated. But you have to love quantum physics to love this book, and I do!
Published 11 months ago by queenpaf
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