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The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (Helix Books) Paperback – April 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

Why do we do science? Beyond altruistic and self-aggrandizing motivations, many of our best scientists work long hours seeking the electric thrill that comes only from learning something that nobody knew before. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a collection of previously unpublished or difficult-to-find short works by maverick physicist Richard Feynman, takes its title from his own answer. From TV interview transcripts to his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, we see his quick, sharp wit, his devotion to his work, and his unwillingness to bow to social pressure or convention. It's no wonder he was only grudgingly admired by the establishment during his lifetime--read his "Minority Report to the Space Shuttle Challenger Inquiry" to see him blowing off political considerations as impediments to finding the truth.

Feynman had a fantastic sense of humor, and his memoirs of his Manhattan Project days roil with fun despite his later misgivings about nuclear weapons. Though one or two pieces are a bit hard to follow for the nontechnical reader, for the most part the book is easygoing and engaging on a personal rather than a scientific level. Freeman Dyson's foreword and editor Jeffrey Robbins's introductions to each essay set the stage well and are respectful without being worshipful. Though Feynman has been gone now for many years, his work lives on in quantum physics, computer design, and nanotechnology; like any great scientist, he asked more questions than he answered, to give future generations the pleasure of finding things out. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A Nobel-winning physicist, inveterate prankster and gifted teacher, Feynman (1918-1988) charmed plenty of contemporary and future scientists with accounts of his misadventures in the bestselling Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and explained the fundamentals of physics in (among other books) Six Easy Pieces. Editor Jeffrey Robbins's assemblage of 13 essays, interviews and addresses (only one of them new to print) will satisfy admirers of those books and other fans of the brilliant and colorful scientist. Best known among the selections here is certainly Feynman's "Minority Report to the Challenger Inquiry," in which the physicist explained to an anxious nation why the Space Shuttle exploded. The title piece transcribes a wide-ranging, often-autobiographical interview Feynman gave in 1981; an earlier talk with Omni magazine has the author explaining his prize-winning work on quantum electrodynamics, then fixing the interviewer's tape recorder. Other pieces address the field of nanotechnology, "The Relation of Science and Religion" and Feynman's experience at Los Alamos, where he helped create the A-bomb (and, in his spare time, cracked safes). Much of the work here was originally meant for oral delivery, as speeches or lectures: Feynman's talky informality can seduce, but some of the pieces read more like unedited tape transcripts than like science writing. Most often, however, Feynman remains fun and informative. Here are yet more comments, anecdotes and overviews from a charismatic rulebreaker with his own, sometimes compelling, views about what science is and how it can be done. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Helix Books
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465023959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465023950
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

141 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Those who have read Gleick's biography of Richard P. Feynman (Genius) have probably also read this collection of Feynman's "best short works." This is indeed an odd collection. Feynman is most accessible in the interviews and speeches; least accessible in his "Minority Report to the Space Shuttle Challenger Inquiry." Gleick's biography reveals a man who exemplifies what Whitman had in mind when he observed "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." Feynman was indeed large; he contained multitudes. To read this book is to share the pleasure of his company as he formally and informally shares his thoughts and feelings about himself, his life, his career, and just about everything else which attracted his attention. Chapter 1 ("The Pleasure of Finding Things Out") and Chapter 8 ("What Is Science?") are my personal favorites. The aforementioned "Minority Report" (Chapter 7) was, for me, tough going. As I worked my way through this collection, I began to think that I was in the company of someone who has Albert Einstein's intellect and Danny Kaye's personality. Feyman must have been a flamboyant (albeit demanding) classroom teacher. There can be no doubt about his intelligence. Nor his passion and compassion. Nor his playfulness. How much I regret never having known him personally. Therefore, how much I appreciate this collection which I continue to re-read with joy.
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80 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I recommend this book to people who have never read Feynman before, and to those people who only know Feynman's funny stories.
This book is a good overview of Feynman's thinking and not merely a collection of his humorous anecdotes. If you have read many of his other works and you are expecting a great amount of new material, then this book will probably be a disappointment. However, if you are only marginally familiar with Feynman or not familiar at all with him, I highly recommend it.
I believe some of the less than stellar reviews found here were written by Feynman fans who thought this book contained lots of new material. They are correct claiming there is not a lot of new material here for the well-read Feynman fan. However, for the unfamiliar who doesn't want to read everything he wrote, I believe this is the book to get.
If you are interested more in his humorous storytelling, as opposed to his ideas, then I recommend 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman' instead of this book.
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70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on November 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
I felt a bit of trepidation when approaching this work, as reading a collection of what are considered "The Best Short Works" of a Nobel Laureate Physicist, sounds daunting even for someone trained to some degree in the field. I am not so trained. Mr. Richard Feynman has the additional gift of speaking passionately, and often in a self-deprecating manner, about what he does, with the result that the layperson can enjoy both his originally spoken, and written thoughts. There are terms and concepts that are understood best, and perhaps only, by those who have made the decision to pursue physics to its higher levels. However the vast majority of the book is readable to any that are inquisitive.
Mr. Feynman's Father was also a remarkable man. He was not a trained scientist, and his profession had absolutely nothing to do with science. However as is repeated throughout the book he was the catalyst that recognized and nurtured the talent his precocious son possessed. This topic and the ideas that are expressed about learning and teaching are just one of the topics that is completely accessible to any reader. The topics make for such interesting reading, as the author's enthusiasm combined with his gift for explaining the complex and the abstract, is what allows his thoughts to be accessible, and this is what I enjoyed so much. He was a man of great enthusiasm for the wonders that he sought to understand, and his writing transfers this feeling to his audience.
The quote that titles this review is Mr. Feynman's way of describing his feelings when he learns something new.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
I very much enjoyed this entertaining and delightful collection of lectures, talks and essays by the world-renown and sorely missed Professor Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist, idiosyncratic genius and one of the great men of the twentieth century.

I particularly enjoyed the subtle yet unmistakable way he scolded the people at NASA for putting their political butts before the safety of the space program they were managing in his famous "Minority Report to the Space Shuttle Challenger Inquiry." But the chapter that really sold me on Richard P. Feynman, boy wonder grown up, was "It's as Simple as One, Two, Three" in which he explores the ability to do two things at once through an experiment with counting. Such a delight he took in learning as a kid from his friend Bernie that we sometimes think in pictures and not in words. And then the further delight he took in learning that some people count with their inner voice (himself), and others (his friend John Tukey) count by visualization.

I was also loved the chapter, "What is Science?", a talk to science teachers in which Feynman demonstrates that the real difference between science and other ways of "knowing" (e.g., religion) is the ability to doubt. In science we learn, as Feyman said he himself learned, to live with doubt. But in the religious way of "knowing" doubt is intolerable. Feynman gives an evolutionary illustration of why doubt is essential. He begins with the "intelligent" animals "which can learn something from experience (like cats)." At this stage, he says, each animal learned "from its own experience." Then came some animals that could learn more rapidly and from the experience of others by watching. Then came something "completely new...
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