5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Simply the best scientific biography... ever?,
This review is from: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Paperback)Feynman is a biographer's dream: super-humanly intelligent, yet grounded; an abstract thinker at the highest level who was able to connect with concrete analogies and "the common man"; devoted family man and sometime womanizer; legendary prankster with an overwhelming moral seriousness; and all the colorful anecdotes one can wish for.
Gleick's brilliance is not falling for the public persona. One can read Feynman's own biographies, which leave one with the feeling that he was a clown or boor. Gleick did the journeyman's work of ferreting out obscure documents -- including one of the most heart-rending imaginable, a love letter Feynmam wrote to his wife two years *after* she'd died -- interviewing endless people who knew Feynman, and piecing together a rich, time-bound narrative of not only the man, but the milieu around him. We see Feynman re-creating quantum chromodynamics, and learning to draw with his pal Jirayr Zorthian. We see nasty letters from jilted girlfriends, and testimonials from lifelong intimates. It's difficult to convey how NOT sensationalistic this is in Gleick's hands. He is a master integrator, as well as being among the least presumptuous prose stylists among biographers.
You'll learn a lot about science from the book, too, but it's not like being lectured to. It's fully integrated -- no, *woven* -- into the story line. Perhaps Gleick's greatest achievement here is his peerless ability to weave, balance, sustain, so many narrative strands in Feynman's life. It's that rare biography where you feel, at the end, that you did not only learn about the subject, but actually knew him (yes, that's a cliche, but it sticks).
[As for the question mark on the title of the review ("ever?"), this is because Robert Kanigel's bio of Ramanujan is very nearly on the same level. But that's about it, among biographies of scientists. At least in my experience.]