6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I have read most of the books by Feynman that were written for a general reader and this is the first one that I left me disappointed. The book consists of 13 short pieces by Feynman of varying quality. Several consist of transcripts of talks that he has given or interviews for magazines such as Omni. The talks, which may have been great when delivered by Feynman, appear to be rambling and disjointed when read. This is especially true of the first chapter, which I felt was among the poorest and may be off-putting for many readers. The book includes his short appendix to the Challenger accident report, which I felt was the best of the chapters. Not only does this chapter properly castigate NASA management for their ridiculously low estimate of the probability of failure and the resulting false optimism regarding the safety of the shuttle program; but it also serves as a guide of the proper way to approach failure analysis (at least concerning the need to consider the inputs from the working level engineers and designers, as opposed to just their managers). This book is worthwhile for those interested in this. Unfortunately, the other chapters do not reach this level of clarity and focus. Some of the chapters are autobiographical, but this material is covered more completely in Gleicks biography of Feynman (Genius) and more humorously in Feynman's books of anecdotes ("Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think?").
This not the book for someone who knows very little about Feynman. To these people I recommend the aforementioned biography and autobiographical books. This is also not the book for someone who knows very little about Feynman's scientific work. I recommend the Gleick biography and Feynman's general science books ("QED", "Six Easy Pieces", "Six Not So Easy Pieces" and "The Character of Physical Law").
Those who are familiar with Feynman and his science may find this book of some interest. This is particularly true if they want more information about his approach to learning science, the proper way to estimate the risk of failure in a complex system, the integrity required for honest science, the difference between science and pseudoscience, and Feynman's view of science versus religion. For these people I would give the book 4 stars (five stars for the Challenger chapter), but I can only give it three stars for a more general readership. The three stars are based on an average of 2 to 5 star chapters. Unfortunately I feel that the number of 2 star chapters far outweigh the few 4 star chapters and one 5 star chapter.
35 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 1999
Most of these articles are in print already. I have only lightly skimmed a few of them. I hadn't previously seen the Omni interview, which described how the discovery of the Lamb effect in 1947 spurred Feynman to finish his formulation of QED. The interview has Feynman saying that the measurements were done by Lamb and Rutherford, and the biographical footnote on the page correctly dates Rutherford's death in 1937. (Rutherford discovered the atomic nucleus in 1911 when he noticed alpha particles scattering backwards from atoms instead of going through as everyone would have assumed.) For some reason, the editor didn't catch the inconsistency (the co-discoverer was actually Retherford, not Rutherford). There are other indications of editorial sloppiness, such as the editor's statement in the preface that light is slowed down in glass or water by a fraction of a percent (compared to the speed in vacuum). It's more like 30 percent, as anyone who has taken high school physics may remember. I think Feynman deserves better -- the editor should have run this book by a physicist before publishing it.
on November 13, 2012
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While some parts of this book are very enjoyable and provide a wonderful window into both Feynman's way of thinking, and the historical context (the "Los Alamos from Below" section, for example), I found others more difficult. Still worth reading, absolutely, just don't expect the same level of interest, humor, scientific detail, or just about any other aspect to be consistent from one section to another. This makes sense, as the book is a collection of items given to - and intended for - different audiences at different times. Unfortunately, at least for me, the inconsistencies meant that I could barely put the book down while reading some sections but found myself preferring other reading material over Mr Feynman's musings while working my way through the others.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2009
Here's the problem with having high expectations: they're so often dashed.
In my years trawling the web and being a science nerd, I've heard a lot about Richard Feynman. There are legends about him, that he was the Puck of physics - brilliant, untamed, and really, really funny. When I got the book, I was expecting to read a lightning-quick volley of ideas that would set my mind alight with the wonder and infinite possibilities continued within a lifetime's pursuit of science.
Yeah, that didn't quite happen.
Don't get me wrong - Feynman is indisputably brilliant, and far from the classic mold of the physicist. He had no patience for titles or honors, and in fact couldn't give a damn about them as long as he had science to do. He would tell Nobel laureates - men whose names were bywords for scientific brilliance - that they were wrong, without hedging or worrying about their egos. He liked to play the bongos, loved a good party, and delighted in playing tricks. One of his more irritating hobbies was safe-cracking, and by the time he left Los Alamos labs after the Manhattan Project there were no places left to hide secrets from Feynman.
So Feynman was no doubt a really cool guy, the kind of scientist you would want to invite to your party without hesitation. His first interest was science, and as scientist go, he was one of the best.
That doesn't mean that reading him is entirely entertaining.
The book is, for me, not very readable for two reasons. The first is that it goes get terribly technical at times, and while I love science, I am not educated enough in it to grasp a lot of the technical details. Indeed, it broke my heart when Feynman said that, when it comes to physics, if you don't know the math, you don't know the science. True, yes. Humbling, yes. But still....
Were I editing a collection of Feynman's work, I would have started with the Big Ideas, defenses of science as an integral function of humanity's ultimate progress. Then, having made the reader comfortable with how Feynman thought, they could have gotten into what Feynman thought.
But no, the book starts of with highly technical lectures on quantum electrodynamics and the difficulties in getting parallel computers to work. If you don't know a lot about how computers work, or you don't have a detailed awareness of atomic theory, you're going to be a little lost. Or a lot lost. Even his minority opinion on the Challenger accident, something I was especially keen to read, was far too dry to be enjoyable.
The second reason why I didn't really enjoy this book is because a lot of it is transcripts of speeches and interviews. Very few people are able to speak in a readable manner, and someone with a mind like Feynman's - always moving, always active - isn't one of them. There are a lot of asides and false starts, wandering thoughts and truncated paragraphs. Even his more structured speeches aren't structured very well for the reader. Perhaps it would be different to listen to him, to sit in the audience and watch the man speak. I reckon that he had the kind of infectious energy and enthusiasm that would make it easy to gloss over structural problems and really enjoy the speech. But turning speech into print is always dangerous, and here I think it fails.
For different people - people who are deeply involved in physics or who are Feynman acolytes - this book is probably a fascinating look into the mind of one of the 20th century's greatest scientists. For the rest of us, we're going to have to find other things to enjoy from the text, and it is there. One of those is, indeed, the title of the book - the pleasure of finding things out.
For Feynman, science wasn't a rigor or a job, it was a joy. He attributes a lot of that attitude to his father, an unlikely fan of science. As a uniform salesman, Feynman's father was not a scientist and had no scientific training. But he raised his son to think about the world. Rather than tell him why, for example, a bird picked at its feathers with its beak, encouraged Richard to observe the bird, to form a hypothesis and then see if observations confirmed it. His father taught him to question everything, to form his own opinions about the world, and by doing so, made him into a scientist from an early age.
It is that attitude which should be the dominant theme of this book, rather than Feynman's technical genius. He says, over and over, to doubt everything. Ask yourself why things are the way they are, rather than just relying on what other people tell you. Observe, experiment and test, and you're doing science.
He has some disdain for social sciences, and a pretty healthy dose of misogyny in a couple of places, but if he is arrogant, then it is probably deserved. Feynman was a man fascinated with how the universe worked, all the way down to its smallest components, and that was his passion. Not awards, not titles, not praise - just the work, the discovery and the pleasure.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2002
This collection of "short works" a decent collection, and will surely appeal to those who enjoyed "Genius" and "Surely You Must Be Joking..." The pieces included run quite a gamut of subjects - the function of science, the necessity of doubt in scentific method, religion vs. science, teaching and learning, and many others. All of them are brought to life by Feynman's conversational style and facility with description and coherent threads of thought.
As much as I was hungry to hear more of Feynman's thought process, I was kind of disappointed by this book. There are many facts and revelations in the text of many of these short works, but nearly all of them have a sketchy, half-finished quality to them. From the reverent forward by Freeman Dyson to the equally gushy introduction by the author, I got rather the impression that this book is some sort of campaign for Feynman's sainthood. Feynman is very articulate, and expresses well-defined opinions on a number of subjects, supported by an illustrious history in his field and numerous facts. This book makes better cocktail conversation than a collection of works from an already distiguished thinker.
Feynman's common sense approach, and bottom line reasoning is very appealing and, short of the Challenger testimony piece (the most technical of the addresses included) easy for the average reader to understand and enjoy. Many of Feynman's opinions may affect your own thinking on these subjects - not really a bad thing at all. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out isn't up to the standard of the other two, however, and that was a little dissatisfying to me.