149 of 155 people found the following review helpful
Here is another book of wonderful biographical anecdotes of one of the most intriguing scientists who has ever lived. However, those who are looking for merely a continuing edition of the tremendously popular (not to mention hilarious!) SURELY YOU'RE JOKING MR. FEYNMAN should take note: this present work does not qualify as that.
To be sure, there are a handful of chapters which would fit right into SYJMF. However, 2 major sections cover some exceptionally serious topics which are hardly material for Feynman's typical humor. One section details his love for his first wife as well as her untimely terminal illness. The other covers his work on the commission to disinter the technical problems that led to the explosion of the Space Shuttle CHALLENGER in 1986. These major sections encompass roughly 3/4 of the book.
The chapter on his wife's suffering is especially poignant and touched me very deeply. Feynman was a man whose love and compassion matched his intellect. I could not but feel empathy and admiration for the way he took care of his bride, knowing all along that she would not live long. His decision to be straight with her about her condition, instead of feeding her some fairy-tale story about how she had a good chance of recovery, was both painful and edifying to read.
The section on the CHALLENGER goes into great detail on everything that went wrong that fateful day in '86 as the nation watched the disaster on TV. To this day, I have not seen a television documentary cover this story as I think it should be covered.
I recently saw a special on the CHALLENGER on the DISCOVERY channel. It did an excellent job of focusing on how the engineers at THIOKOL were screaming at NASA not to launch, well into the wee hours of the morning of the catastrophe. However, what the special omitted was the cover-up and closing-of-ranks that NASA did AFTER the accident. To me, NASA's behavior after the fact was even more reprehensible than its carelessness before the launch.
It was for the reason of politics that then-president Ronald Reagan personally requested that Feynman be on-board the investigation committee [a committee that also included the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, among others]. Reagan knew that Feynman would get to the bottom of the matter (which he did) and that Feynman did not care for the politics of making NASA "look good" (which he didn't).
With this in mind, even people who are not interested in Richard Feynman, but are curious about what happened to the CHALLENGER would gain much by reading this book. Feynman explains his thorough, logical methodology and how it rubbed many people the wrong way. His straight-forward and honest disclosures of NASA's gerrymandering created much animosity between himself and NASA exec William Rogers (who, it seems, was more interested in NASA's image than getting to the heart of the matter). For those who are interested in further reading on the CHALLENGER topic, I would recommend NO ORDINARY GENIUS: THE ILLUSTRATED FEYNMAN ...
For Feynman enthusiasts, this book is vintage Feynman - a can't miss. As a bonus, the center of the book has photographs from his life, as well as some of his sketches. The book is equally recommended for people who wonder about what "really" happened to the CHALLENGER, and why it happened. NASA aficionados may be disappointed in the work as it exposes (truthfully) all of the fudge-factors, apathy for safety issues and faulty reasoning NASA used with the efficacy of launching CHALLENGER on time and preserving its positive image after the fact.
62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
The title of this review may sound as a little bit of an overstatement, given Leonardo Da Vinci's stature, but it is a very close way to depict this distinguished North American physicist who, among MANY other things, won the Nobel Prize, worked in Project Manhattan (at Los Alamos lab) and was part of the team that investigated (and discovered) the cause of the explosion of the Challenger. If this could already be enough to elevate him a lot, you'll discover through this book how his life was constituted by one of the most interesting and rich cultural mosaics one can imagine.
Always struggling to look at things "differently", Feynman became a very sought-after educator, teaching at the United States most prestigious universities, as well as other schools in places like Brazil.
At the end of the day, Feynman's most important teachings might come as: 'Never take yourself too seriously' (as other reviewers have already commented), 'Always keep an open mind' and 'Focus your efforts on what really matters'.
If you enjoy this book (which I'm sure you will), check out what could be considered the first part of it: 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' : Adventures of a Curious Character; as well as Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman's Last Journey - both, highly recommendable.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2001
A sort of sequel to "Surely You're Joking...," this book has fewer laughs but still kept me fascinated by the mind of Richard Feynman. "Surely You're Joking..." was filled with short humorous anecdotes, not necessarily related, coming together as a sketchy autobiography. "What Do You Care..." is a little different in form and has two main themes: Feynman's relationship with Arlene, his first wife, and his challenges with the Challenger space shuttle investigation.
In this book, as opposed to "Surely You're Joking..." we get stories that we can follow for a longer time, and so there is a little more depth to them. Arlene's character is described more fully here, so we can understand their relationship better, and that was interesting. But I was more drawn to the Challenger story, which consists of his difficulties in finding information on the causes of the explosion while having to deal with bureaucracy and the unscientific minds of management. Sure, there must be tons of biases in here (he's a very opinionated guy), but Feynman's adventures are nonetheless filled with wonderful insights about life and science. And the last chapter, "The Value of Science" deals with things that many have forgotten or have never learned about science, doubt, and integrity.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2005
Richard Feynman (1918-1988) had a very full and adventurous life as can be gleaned from this great book. The first half is mostly autobiographical and anecdotal and in the typical Feynman way, he leaves nothing to the imagination. He spent the latter part of his life as a Professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Ca.
For hobbies he loved bongos and drums and occasionally performed with a drumming group at Caltech, but was content to spend hours drumming with close friends such as Ralph Leighton at his home. Feynman also enjoyed drawing and painting and some of his artwork is depicted in this book. The artwork was exacting and professional. There are several photos covering Feynman's life and concluding with space shuttle photos and diagrams.
The second half of the book, and some would say the most potent part, is dedicated to Feynman's participation in the investigation of the 1986 space shuttle "Challenger" accident. Feynman demonstrated the ultimate in dogged pursuit of the cause and was not to be intimidated or put-off by NASA and military officials who would have been happy not disclose the damning facts that they were thoroughly warned about safety issues before the launch, yet chose to ignore these warnings in deference to then Pres. Reagan's desire for a political feather in his cap by launching the shuttle on his schedule.
Who knows what, if anything, was explained to Reagan that the weather was too cold to launch (the shuttle was not suppose to be launched in less than 53 degree weather and the temperature at launch time was 29 degrees!). What is known is that the NASA management chose to ignore the warnings and heeded the beck and call of the President to launch. Later, and like typical management weasels, they tried to hush-up the fact that they were warned and then tried to blame the "O"-ring failure on the manufacturer, Thiokol.
During the inquiry, Feyman took the opportunity to demonstrate a simple, common-sense experiment in front of his fellow investigative teammates and news cameras that when the "O"-rings are chilled (he dropped a piece of one held by pliers in a glass of ice-water) they shrink and cannot seal properly, and especially when the violent vibration of the launch process is added for an ultimately disastrous mix.
If not for Feynman's persistence, this simple, but profound demonstration could have been swept under the rug and fingers unfairly pointed at Thiokol. Management refused to take any responsibility for the disaster, yet when in fact, their incompetent dismissal of the freeze conditions were what led to the disaster. Thank God for Richard Feynman! This is not only a fascinating look into Feynman's life, it is a national treasure, for here is where we see the bungling, politically motivated decisions of a great country being jerked around by bureaucrats leading, ultimately, to disaster.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2004
Feynman's book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" is a lot of fun. But fun was not the only thing in Feynman's life. "What Do you Care What Other People Think" is a rather different book.
Don't get me wrong: there are various funny stories in this book, too. And the book also describes various controversies - for example the story in which the silly feminists called Feynman "a sexist pig". Feynman never hesitated to inform morons (especially the pompous fools) that they were morons, and this book is another proof of it. Nevertheless, the main focus of the book is different.
Feynman first talks about his childhood - especially his father who taught him to question the orthodox thinking, and who probably always wanted Richard to become a scientist. On the other hand, Feynman's father was not an intellectual. One of the special features of Feynman is that he was brought up in an ordinary family - not in a family of professors which is unfortunately the case of most professors today.
The second part of the book is very sad and very emotional. It's about his first wife, Arlene. I think that the book will show you how much they loved each other and how big influence Arlene had on Feynman. Well, a problem was that she suffered from tuberculosis. She was dying while Feynman was working on the atomic bomb in Los Alamos. This part of the book could compete with any good fiction - the difference is that this story is real and it happened to one of the most influential physicists of all time. I am sure that you will agree that Feynman's heart was at least as strong as his brain.
However, it's not just a sad love story: Feynman also describes their tricks that they used to send letters to each other (circumventing the censorship in Los Alamos) and other amusing details of this period.
The third portion (about 55%) of the book is dedicated to the commission that investigated the explosion of the Challenger, the space shuttle in 1986. Feynman was always eager to get to the very heart of the matter and he never cared whether he looked "nice" to others. Even Ronald Reagan knew about that, and therefore he personally asked Feynman to serve on the committee (with Neil Armstrong and others).
Feynman did not disappoint and the book reveals the findings in depth - well sometimes the description is too detailed, I would say. It shows how some people in NASA - for example an executive called William Rogers - preferred the image (their personal image as well as the image of NASA) over the truth. You will also learn about many technical details that have led to the explosion. Feynman was thinking differently - unlike the chairman of the commission who thought that everyone should sit in a room and ask the experts, Feynman decided to talk to the engineers. Feynman's analysis is also a critique of the government bureaucracy.
Although NASA was probably a unified force when it sent the first men to the Moon, it became fragmented afterwards, Feynman argues. The engineers estimated the probability of the failure to be about 1:300, while the top bosses were painting an optimistic picture to the Congress that the probability of an explosion was about 1:100,000, and NASA can be both cheap as well as efficient.
Feynman's most visible conclusion is that the space shuttle program may have been a mistake because the public had to be fooled that the project was better than it actually was.
Feynman always believed that the public must be allowed to decide whether they want to fund you and your projects, after you honestly tell them what the project means. Unlike many unrealistic people in the academia who believe that an arbitrary amount of money paid for an arbitrary project in science is a good investment - and that it is always OK to fool the ordinary people to get some money - Feynman understood economics and the workings of the society very well. Moreover, honesty was his primary goal in debates with the laymen.
At the end of the book, Feynman advocates science and its principles. However, you don't need to be trained in physics to understand the book.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2001
"What do you care what other people think" might not be as fast-paced and full of as many laugh-out-loud anecdotes as "Surely You're Joking", but it's just as entertaining, and even more thought-provoking. The first half of the book is much like Surely You're Joking. It's a series of funny and touching stories and recounted adventures. The second part of the book details Feynman's work investigating the Challenger explosion in 1986. Despite how it sounds (and the opinion of another reviewer), it's not boring at all. In fact, it's absolutely fascinating. It's not just a description of the investigation, it's like a detective story, complete with mystery and deception and finding clues and following leads and beating the system. It also serves to demonstrate both Feynman's brillance and his ability to make just the right kind of trouble. Feynman, having been dropped out of his science element and into the bureaucracy of Washington, shows his wonderful childlike way of encountering new situations. Instead of going by the book and doing what he's told like many of the other commissioners, Feynman goes on his own one-man mission to solve the case. On the way, he discovers a lot of cover-ups and curious mistakes, which, when we remember that they lead to the haunting Challenger explosion, are awfully creepy. I think the Challenger investigation stuff is the most inspirational of Feynman's memoirs so far. What he reveals during his investigation is shaking; not just the incidents themselves, but what they say about human nature. Even more shaking is the realization that most of us never stop to question the status quo, even when it smells fishy. While the rest of the commission was on guided tours of Kennedy, Feynman would sneak away, against the wishes of the people in charge, to interview the lowest assembly workers. It's an example of how we all should be; always doubting, always finding out answers for ourselves, and always curious. Oh, despite being inspirational and all that, it's extremely funny!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2000
After wanting to read RF for a long time, I finally got a book. This was the first Feynman book I read. It has two parts, the first is mostly about Feynman's first wife Arlene and his friends when he was a young man. The second tells us how Feynman investigated the Challenger explosion. The book is not technical, the second part is a bit more detailed and might tell you more about rocket engines that you would like to know, but the whole book is very interesting. I particulary enjoyed the first part, how Feynman decided to still marry Arlene not matter what everyone else was telling him, and how special their relationship was. Feynman is a brillian man, yet funny and modest, he even shares some of his embarassing moments. I became a fan and am now going for more Feynman books. A first part for your heart, and a second part for your brain. Some were just random thoughts, with no order at all, and it was a bit confusing sometimes for someone who didn't know Feynman's life, but still, this was a delicious book and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading about the people who make brilliant science... and still have a sense of humor. :)
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2009
If you're a Feynman fanatic, you're sure to enjoy this even though the content is erratic and not as good as Surely You're Joking.
If you haven't read Surely You're Joking, read that first. It's better.
Okay, you're back from SYJ. Are you a Feynman fan now? If not, then skip this book. If yes, then you'll probably buy this book anyway just to get your hands on anything Feynman.
The beautiful epilogue (a Feynman speech on the value of science) is the best, and those half dozen pages made me feel I got my money's worth in the purchase of the book.
The section on the space shuttle investigation was pretty good, but you can find a better treatment of the subject (and a whole lot more good reading) in Ed Tufte's book, Visual Explanations.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2001
Review of Richard P. Feynman's "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"
The novel "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" by Richard P. Feynman is an outstanding book about a curious physicist. The novel's title comes from Feynman's attitude of standing up and saying what is on his mind. He tries to persuade that idea to his future wife Arlene, who always watches what she says and is careful not to offend anyone. Arlene would also tease Richard with that line when she sent out greeting cards with her name and his nickname, "Putsy" on them. Feynman would be ashamed of that name and Arlene would use that line against him. This book is about a remarkable journey through the life and times of Richard Feynman. It details a tragic loss in his life, but also great accomplishments. Funny stories of booking a hotel, impressive speeches where people brag about shaking his hand, and Feynman being called a sexist pig will have you laughing out loud. Feynman is a world famous physicist who travels the world working on famous projects. The Manhattan Project, atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and the Challenger accident are just a few to name. Readers will love the portion of the book that details the Challenger accident where Feynman was a key player in determining the cause of the accident. The tale is fascinating how he worked with the media and traveled all over from Washington D.C. to Florida, and Alabama to Texas to find valuable information. This book is a great find for all readers. The stories on the value of science to create and solve problems is magnificent. "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" will also touch your heart with life lessons and losses. This wonderful novel will have you crying tears one page and dying laughing on the floor the next. Treat yourself to a dynamic journey through science by reading "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" by Richard P. Feynman, whose remarkable road ended on February 15, 1988 due to a battle with cancer.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 1998
Dr. Feynman, by allowing us to see some very personal moments during his amazing life gives the reader a personal connection to one of history's greatest men. From his work on the Manhattan Project to the Shuttle Challenger disaster, Feynman's wit and sense of humor (as well as his bold style) gave personality to complex scientific problems. This book is a definite must read for any Feynman fan as well as any physicist in need of some perspective. Feynman was the embodiment of Einstein's notion, that you can't understand physics unless you can explain it to a barmaid. Feynman could (and often did), and his style of writing brings his deep understanding of all things, complex or simple to light.