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194 of 204 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Open Palm
A late relative of mine, a world-renowned physicist, once said: "One has to be an open palm. As soon as it clenches into a fist, the person looses the ability to learn and to enjoy new things. And that is the onset of old age".
Looking at our parents and grandparents, older colleagues, and now increasingly often at my own contemporaries and at myself, I am beginning...
Published on September 23, 2002 by subornator

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76 of 99 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant But Insufferable Guy
I'm in the camp that believes Feynman was a brilliant scientist but somewhat of a jerk. His practical jokes, though perhaps brilliantly conceived, were often hurtful and arrogant. His stories about his bar-hopping and womanizing lack credibility. I'm not impressed that he knew how to play bongo drums -- who doesn't? And then there are his "cultural" pursuits. I know...
Published on May 26, 2006 by zorba


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194 of 204 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Open Palm, September 23, 2002
By 
"subornator" (A short trip from Arnhem) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
A late relative of mine, a world-renowned physicist, once said: "One has to be an open palm. As soon as it clenches into a fist, the person looses the ability to learn and to enjoy new things. And that is the onset of old age".
Looking at our parents and grandparents, older colleagues, and now increasingly often at my own contemporaries and at myself, I am beginning to understand what a hard task it is - to remain an open palm.
Almost no one avoids the nostalgic illusion - in our better days snow was whiter and girls prettier, and what we've been taught is the only correct doctrine. One only sees how ridiculous such claims are when confronted with a different, higher breed of people, who remain curious and young at heart at any age. Richard Feynman was one of such people.
In case someone does not know, Richard Feynman was a physicist, a Nobel prize winner, a participant of the Manhattan project, the founder of quantum mechanics. I have no idea what it is; they say, though, that a new race of computers will shortly change our world and our perception of it; these computers will be supposedly built on principles foreseen by Feynman.
Feynman's book, subtitled "Adventures of a Curious Character", is his memoir - not written down, but narrated in conversations with a close friend. It is very clear that nothing surpassed his ardent passion for physics. When Feynman spoke about his subject, he rejected all notions of etiquette and subordination; Nils Bohr and Einstein could discuss their new ideas only with him - other colleagues just gaped in awe at any dictum of theirs. Feynman writes about the very *process* of discovery - this is probably the only sincere and authentic description of scientific creativity of such scale in literature. In the closing chapter, Feynman speaks about the scientist's responsibility - not to society or colleagues, but rather to himself and his science; all his recollections, serious and jocular, clearly demonstrate how serious it was to him.
They say a gifted person is gifted in anything. Feynman was unusually eager to prove this dubious statement. He came to Brazil to lecture on physics, and ended up playing frigideira and winning, with his fellow musicians, the annual competition at a street parade in Rio. He recorded a percussion-only soundtrack for a ballet, and the performance won a second place at a prestigious competition in Paris. He tackled pencils and brushes without any knowledge or experience in paining, and soon became a hot commodity on the art market. In "alien" domains Feynman always acted incognito or under an alias - he never wanted to be the proverbial Dr. Johnson's dog, whose ability to walk on its hind legs was judged by the fact that it was a dog, not because it walked well.
Feynman's free-time undertakings were usually perfected to a degree which would be the crowning glory of many a professional career. He spent one of his summer holidays working under James Watson, the discoverer of the DNA, and soon was able to read a sound lecture about his own findings to Harvard professors of biology. All this seems improbable; but Feynman never admires himself too much, his boasting is good-natured, and he laughs at himself at least as much as at others.
He was a master of that, of course. Almost half the book is devoted to his practical jokes. During his work in top-secret labs of Los Alamos, he developed a taste for cracking safes; the pinnacle of his burglar's career was the simultaneous cracking of three safes containing *all* US nuclear secrets.
A womaniser without narcissism, a braggart without pomp, a jester without malice, a unique, but amiable character - Feynman is the most loveable memoir writer that could ever be. He never took anything for granted - having read an article about the bloodhounds' phenomenal olfactory abilities, he set to investigate humans and found out that ours are not much worse, just underused. He hated pompous fools; the description of an "interdisciplinary" conference, where the narrator's common sense and logic fail in a combat with "intellectuals", is a real tragic comedy. He was open to any new experience (unless it threatened to damage the thinking mechanism - which explains his abstinence from alcohol and drugs of any sort). Since his childhood, when he fixed radios by thought, to his old age, he remained an open palm.
An excellent lesson for any of us.
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161 of 173 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique moments from the life of a unique man., December 4, 2000
By 
This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
It is not often that you see a Nobel-winner physicist behaving the way Feynman did, with such humour mixed with an obviously enormous amount of knowledge. Feynman was no ordinary physicist and no ordinary citizen, a rebel who could not be forced to behave like many around him.
This is probably the first Feynman book you should read, and it is indeed a book that anyone interested in science with a touch of good humour MUST read. While I am definitely not a fan of those "just read it" reviews, if you are still questioning if Feynman's thoughts are worth your money, I have to say "think no more, and go for it"
I strongly suggest getting "What do you care what other people think"? in the same amazon order so you can read it right after. It is a book which basically shares the same type of structure, but includes more thoughts on Feynman's youth, and a more emotional story about his first wife Arlene. Both titles are full of wisdom and fun. A good 3 rd title is "Most of the good stuff". It might be useful to mention that these titles often appear to have no chronological order, and the new Feynman reader might be left somewhat confused about when and why the events where happening. That is why you should also get the excellent biography of Feynman, "Genius", by James Gleick, which will definitely solve that problem.
For those who are worried about any massive amount of math and physics, fear not. That is obviously part of Feynman's work, but it is not essential for the books I mentioned. (But it is true that knowledge of the 2 subjects will probably make some thoughts more understandable. When it comes to math I often know what Feynman is talking about, as I had several years of nasty math classes in college, but when he is lost in his world of high physics, I am often left scratching my head...)
Unique moments from the life of a unique man. Highly recommended!
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132 of 148 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful collection of Feynman's zany adventures!, February 13, 2000
By 
D. Roberts "Hadrian12" (Battle Creek, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
This book is a jewel. One would be hard pressed to find a more comical and enjoyable book to read - anywhere. Feynman is the scientist who breaks (or should I say, shatters?) the stereotype of the lab-coat physicist who wears thick, taped up glasses. The great Richard P. Feynman is a testament to how great we as a race can me. I like to think of him as a cross between Goethe & Robin Williams (and I do NOT mean that in any sort of deragatory way). As a physicist, he was top notch, but as a person he was something even more. He had a marvelous sense of humor & enjoyed playing pranks on people. His love of life spilled over to all the people he met during his sojourn on the planet. I only wish that I had been one of those lucky few to have met & known him personally. Perhaps what is most remarkable about him is that he had friends from all walks of life. Many were scientists, yes, but many more were "ordinary" people off the street. That is rather noteworthy given the fact that so many Ivy league-calibre professors feel that they too "intellectually gifted" to associate with the rest of we mere mortals. Someone once said that Edwin Hubble wasn't a humble man, but then again, Hubble didn't have very much to be humble about. I would argue that one could say the latter of Feynman as well, but not the former. READ THIS BOOK and share the experiences of one of the most extraordinary and yet fun loving personages of the 20th century (if not all time). I guarantee it will make you laugh like few other books you will ever read.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the funniest books I have ever read, September 22, 2000
This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
This is a great book, for both geeks AND non-geeks. It explores the exciting life of Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of the century. But this book is not about physics, rather it tells you how interesting of a life a physicist can have. It has stories of how the author got girls, tricked and joked on friends with his wits, did stupid things at formal occasions, and blabbered about many parts of the government and other recognized systems. I definitely recommend this book to those thinking about a career in research science like I am. It gave me the impression that being a scientist doesn't necessarily make you stay in a white lab coat all day talking geek-talk. On the contrary, you can still have a life. It confirmed my want to pursue and education and career in research chemistry. As for non-geeks, you'll get a good laugh about the interesting character of Feynman, without needing any knowledge of math or science to read the book (though there are about 1 or 2 jokes that somewhat relate to math).
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nobel-winning physicist talks about life, learning., July 14, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
One of the best books I've ever read, fiction or non-fiction. Feynman's book had me laughing out loud so many times that people around me began to wonder what was wrong with me. Through his recollections about growing up, travels around the world, working at Los Alamos on the bomb and teaching at Cal Tech, Feynman shows what it's like to really live life. To get involved with interests and hobbies you might not consider. To strike up conversations with strangers. To play the bongos.

After I finished this book, my one regret was that this genius is no longer alive. I'd like to write him a letter telling him that he had changed my life in some small yet meaningful ways. God bless this guy!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book for students and professionals alike!!!, June 6, 1999
This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
Recently, during a course in Quantum Mechanics, my professor suggested reading this book and I feel that my life has a new meaning now. Richard Feynman was a true genius and anyone remotely interested in the field or the man must read this book. Feynman's autobiography brings to light an amazing man who fixes radios since he was ten, who cracks safes, who can smell like a dog, does tricks like a conjurer and even picks rooms directly opposite to the girls' dormitory!!! One of the most brilliant minds of twentieth century, the autobiography also portrays him as a human being who didnt do extraordinary things but ordinary things extraordinarily well. A must read for students or even for ordinary people because the book also shows that human capability is in the will and the mind. We set boundaries and limitations to our abilities ourselves not bothering to think that we are capable of a lot more if we put ourselves to the task. For a more scientific approach to his work, you may wish to read the book, 'QED' which has a series of his lectures at Caltech for the general public and the famed 'Feynman's Lectures on Physics' his lectures in college physics at Caltech during 1965-66.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scientists don't have to be geeks or nerds., January 29, 2002
By 
This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
The funny thing about this book was that I bought my very first copy on a trip to China when I was about eleven. I don't know how many times I've restarted the book since then, but I never finished it until now.
This book is a semi-autobiography of a very famous physicist by the name of Richard P. Feynman (RPF). I say it's a semi-autobiography because Ralph Leighton compiled and chronologically ordered several stories told to him by RPF. And I say he's famous because he was a Nobel laureate and named one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People of the last century.
Anyway, RPF is as interesting a character as you'll ever hear about in the scientific community. He looked to science to explain things around him even from a very young age (you'll learn more about his father's influence on him in the second book). His father always taught him to question things that don't make logical sense. He was an analytical person.
Yet behind his intellectual prowess lies his desire to live life and have fun. In this book, he recounts his fear of being called a sissy when he was young, his attempts at hitting on girls, cracking safes, doing magic tricks, learning how to draw and paint, playing in a samba band, etc. Throughout the book, he talks about his motivation in doing such things. He's not out to impress or tell a tall tale that's impossible. In fact, he's quite down to earth and very frank. He speaks what's on his mind.
Richard P. Feynman has led a very colorful life.
If ever there were a non-fiction book that's fun to read and even humorous at times, this would have to be it!
(* NB: There is a follow up book called "What Do You Care What Other People Think". Also a collection of short anecdotes told by RPF to Ralph Leighton. This "sequel" is a looser set of stories that don't chronologically fit together (oh, and there are also some pictures in the middle of this book).
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Feynman is my pal, January 4, 2007
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This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
That's the way it seemed when I read this book. Feynman's authorial voice is friendly, intimate, unassuming, and unique. I found it delightful. The entire book is a gas, fascinating, and educational. Feynman seems like just the kind of guy you'd like to hang out with. He can be a real PITA, but also funny as hell, and always interesting. I really didn't want the book to end (fortunately there are others by him that I haven't read yet). Feynman has a way of thinking that moves into your own brain. I keep catching myself thinking when faced with a problem "Now how would Richard approach this?"

There's not much hard science here but I did get a good sense about some aspects of the sociology and methodology of contemporary physics. Feynman also has interesting ideas about art, music, culture, and people. Some of the anecdotes are historically important, especially the episodes at Los Alamos.

Feynman seems to be painfully honest in places--how many would admit to peccadilloes like spending six nights a week in a strip club--but elsewhere his anecdotes seem confabulated. One description of a philosophical discussion at Princeton when he was a grad student there is absolutely implausible unless Princeton philosophy grad students were a lot worse than I'm sure they were. This is something I know something about. That conversation did not take place the way Feynman describes it. Who cares? (I do a little.) Also Feynman takes a completely gratuitous pot shot at the Cornell philosophy department, which at that time and still today is one of the best in the US.

Feynman is also a bit of a phony, especially in his apparent distain for the Nobel Prize. I guarantee you he would have been mortally crushed if he had not gotten the Nobel (and rightly so!). He's also overbearing toward the end of the book where he discusses "cargo cult science," although the basic point that Feynman is trying to make is deeply important IMO. The thing is the guy's human, very human; he comes across that way--fleshy, a little nerdy, excitable, not always dependable, compulsive, and unpredictable, self-involved, cool sometimes, brilliantly original in an unpretentious way sometimes, and a great story teller.

Reading this book is a wonderful very human experience.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great mind expander, December 13, 1999
By A Customer
I wish someone had given me this book when I was 12-13 years old. I have always enjoyed math and science, but this book would have really made me more excited to learn as much as possible instead of "just enough to not look too dorky". Anyway at 24 years old I read the book and loved it. I have given away several copies since then.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Admiring Mr. Feynman, May 19, 2003
By 
Eric J. Lyman (Roma, Lazio Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
I just pulled Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman off my bookshelf for the first time in more than a year, and was immediately reminded of what an unusual, hilarious, compelling and intelligent book it is. I took it down for a friend to borrow, but before I would let it out of the house, I found time to re-re-read odd pages and passages, followed, of course, by a fair share of laughing out loud and shaking my head in wonder.
The book isn't a biography as much as it is a simple collection of anecdotes. But when the anecdotes come from somebody with the story telling ability, the smarts and the optimism of Mr. Feynman, then that is plenty.
To be fair, each time I re-read the book, it seems a little more dated -- not in the charming sense of old-fashioned values like wearing your best suit for a Sunday afternoon stroll and saving love letters in a box tied together by twine, but in the sense of context. We have to remember, for example, that the price Mr. Feynman paid for a bottle of champagne at one point would be a small fortune if it were stated in today's dollars, and that traveling from New York to Los Angeles was not something one could do on a moment's notice, as it is today. More seriously, Mr. Feynman's treatment of women -- as objects to be conquered and as the gender that "owes" men something in return for a couple of drinks or a dinner -- will today seem politically incorrect to people who dwell on those things.
But there is too much great stuff between the book's covers to let those kinds of minor problems stand in the way.
Of all the qualities Mr. Feynman shares about himself on the book's pages, the one that I like the most is his child-like curiosity: he seems to want to know everything how every thing works. Friends tell me I'm a bit like that myself and when I first made that connection I wondered if it was one of the reasons I was so enthralled by Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman -- and its follow-up, What Do You Care What Other People Think? -- starting from the moment I first picked it up and clear through many re-readings and many more years. But as I write it occurs to me that perhaps my personality developed that way in part because of my admiration for the characteristic in Mr. Feynman.
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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) by Richard P. Feynman (Paperback - April 17, 1997)
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