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Tuva or Bust!: Richard Feynman's Last Journey Paperback – June 17, 2000

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Tuva or Bust!: Richard Feynman's Last Journey + Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) + "What Do You Care What Other People Think?": Further Adventures of a Curious Character
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Richard Feynman, brilliant physicist and inspirational teacher, wasn't much for coats and ties. He lived a life that the adjective "bohemian" doesn't begin to cover, scripting percussion scores for avant-garde ballet troupes, musing over life's imponderables, and delighting and annoying his many friends with odd-duck questions--all the while teaching generations of students at CalTech.

Always adventurous, Feynman was also a careful planner, recounts his friend and fellow drummer Ralph Leighton in this affectionate memoir. When a chance remark happened to dislodge a long-dormant memory of a faraway Siberian land called Tannu-Tuva, Feynman and Leighton set about scheming to get there--a program that included learning the little-described Tuvan language, picking up the rudiments of throat singing, and reading the scattered, hard-to-find literature concerning a place that, in Feynman's fond view, was as close to paradise as the earth contained. It also involved corresponding with scholars in what was still the Soviet Union and wrangling with bureaucrats to secure the necessary papers--all for the sake of seeing a country that had to be interesting, Feynman insisted, just because its capital, Kyzyl, had such an odd spelling.

These picaresque armchair adventures make up the bulk of Tuva or Bust, an unconventional mix of travelogue and scientific biography that's a pleasure to read at every turn. The book yields a memorable picture of Richard Feynman--who did not live to see Tuva, but whose memory is honored there today, thanks to Leighton's refusal to abandon their shared dream. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

As a kid, physicist Richard Feynman collected triangular postage stamps from Tannu Tuva, a remote, mountain-capped fastness in Mongolia. In adulthood, a chance conversation with fellow drummer and coauthor Leighton ( What Do You Care What Other People Think? ) kindled their yearning for this exotic land of nomads, yaks and camels, nominally independent from 1921 to 1944 and now part of the U.S.S.R. The duo spent a frustrating decade trying to get to Tannu Tuva, dickering with Soviet officials while Feynman, who died in 1988, also coped with recurring cancer and investigated the Challenger space shuttle disaster for NASA. Only Leighton would ultimately make the long-sought pilgrimage to Tannu Tuva, where he was serenaded with songs by ethnographer Ondar Daryma, who wages a "one-man crusade to preserve Tuvan culture." (A vinyl record of xoomei --Tuvan throat-singing in which one singer, incredibly, intones two melodies at once--comes as an insert with the book). Animated by irrepressible high spirits, this serendipitous saga is a tale of adventure, heartbreak and rare friendship.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Third Edition edition (June 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393320693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393320695
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #807,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ralph Leighton (born 13 November 1949) is a biographer, film producer, and friend of the late physicist Richard Feynman. He recorded Feynman relating stories of his life. Leighton has released some of the recordings as The Feynman Tapes. These interviews became the basis for the books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, which were later combined into the hardcover anniversary edition Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character. Leighton is an amateur drummer and founder of the group Friends of Tuva. In 1990 he wrote Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman's Last Journey.

Customer Reviews

For me, reading the book was only a beginning.
Bob Newman
There was a great interview with Ralph Leighton, Feynman's friend, and Feynman himself who became rather obessed with getting to Tuva.
Almost any foreign language would sound ridiculous if translated word for word with no corrections for grammar or word order.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on October 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
When I was a kid in the 1950s I collected stamps and had quite a few from a mysterious little land called "Tannu Tuva". It always intrigued me because though I could find it on the old globe we had at home (made before the USSR swallowed the unfortunate Tuvans in 1944)I never heard the slightest news from there, nor did I ever hear of anyone going or coming from that little red country sandwiched between the yellow Soviet Union and green Mongolia. Time passed. A lot of time. Fast forward in fact, forty years. One day I saw a new book advertised--TUVA OR BUST. I could scarcely believe that somebody else in America remembered that hapless little country that once issued diamond and triangle stamps with yaks, camels, archers, and horsemen on them. Yet, they had it at our local bookstore. I bought it and read it as soon as I got home. What a treat ! I had never heard of Richard Feynman, not being a physics aficionado, but he turned out to be a great character. I enjoyed reading about his years-long efforts with Ralph Leighton to get to Tuva. They went through all kinds of trouble and interesting side voyages. I strongly recommend that you read this book. For me, reading the book was only a beginning. I listened to the plastic disc of Tuvan throat singing that came with the book, and subsequently bought tapes and attended Tuvan concerts by the group Huun Huur Tu in Boston. I also became a "Friend of Tuva". You can find their website on the net. I still drive around with my 'Tuva or Bust' bumper sticker. All of this stemmed from reading this delightful book on a faraway, unknown country and two people's adventures trying to get there. A very pleasurable experience.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Diana Nier on February 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Tuva or Bust!" is the story of three friends in the 1980s, who were determined to travel to Tuva, a little known land in Central Asia, which at that time was part of the Soviet Union. Their original motivation? As Richard Feynman says in the first chapter, "A place that's spelled K-Y-Z-Y-L (Tuva's capitol) has just got to be interesting!"
The book chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Ralph Leighton, one of Feynman's longtime friends. Though the book is subtitled "Richard Feynman's Last Journey," it's really Leighton's story; Feynman is more of an inspiration and a supporting character. Over several years, Leighton and his friends wrote letters, researched articles, read books, and became more and more fascinated by Tuva, a tiny country in the middle of nowhere. They learned, among other things, that Tuvans practice three different types of steppe herding lifestyles, within a hundred miles of each other, and that Tuva is the home of throat-singing, a musical technique in which a single person produces two notes at the same time.
Leighton's narration is chatty, reminiscent of Feynman's autobiographical works; one suspects Leighton learned to tell anecdotes from his friend. However, Leighton isn't as inherently fascinating a narrator as Feynman. Also, Feynman's persistent cancer, which kept him from participating in several preliminary trips, and finally killed him shortly before Leighton received permission for a group of Americans to travel to Tuva itself, casts a pall over the book.
Still, this is a fascinating story -- a great example of what people can do if they really care about a cause, and don't realize precisely how little chance they have of succeeding.
Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 1996
Format: Paperback
I began reading "Tuva or Bust" as a result of my admiration
for physicist Richard Feynman. Although subtitled "Richard
Feynman's Last Journey," "Tuva or Bust" is more about the
efforts of the author, Richard Leighton, to get permission
and the means to visit a Soviet republic formerly known as
Tannu Tuva in the 1980's because "any country whose capital
is spelled 'Kyzyl' must be worth visiting."
The book is simultaneously an adventure story, a manual on
how to do research and a loving (in a manly way) tribute to
the genius of Richard Feynman. I learned more from this
little book than from the last half-dozen tomes consumed.
As an added bonus, (the hardcover edition, at least) contains
a vinyl record with samples of Tuvan "throat singing" in which
the singer produces two notes simultaneously!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By C. Richard VINE VOICE on December 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a book by Ralph Leighton. It chronicles the adventures he and others had in trying to get to visit Tanu Tuva with Richard Feynman, the American Nobel prize-winning physicist.

Do you know where Tanu Tuva is located? I do, as I once saw it on a globe years ago. It was a country wedged between Russia and Mongolia, but Stalin took it over in the 1940's. Like the people in the book, exotic locales like this interest me, so I had to read this book.

The subtitle of the book is "Richard Feynman's Last Journey" - but Feynman died before getting to Tuva. Sort of sad after all the trouble they went to to get there. The author did go, but it was very anti-climatic, as he barely said anything about the actual trip after pages on all the hoops they had to go through to get there.

If you read the book, it seems like Feynman was involved, but not nearly as much as the author and others mentioned in the book. Well, Feynman was famous, so I guess the subtitle helped attract attention to the book. In any case, the story is interesting and illustrates how weird and frustrating it was to deal with the old USSR - something quickly being forgotten perhaps.

To digress, I had a Russian penpal during communist rule, and it was interesting. I had to use registered mail (very expensive) to be sure he saw my letters. He actually defected to England before the Communists were out in Russia, and I got to meet him there at the end of a business trip. Sort of made the book relate to me more as I had this experience.

Getting back to the book review, I do recommend the book. It is like a time capsule for life so different, but not that long ago. Give it a look.
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