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Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (Great Discoveries) Illustrated Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
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- Kirkus Reviews
“Lawrence Krauss's wonderful biography manages to combine a rolling narrative with a crystal clear explanation of Richard Feynman's science. Its lively descriptions make both electromagnetism and quantum mechanics fun, while Krauss's personal reflections on his subject add a new level of insight into the man and his scientific legacy. Quantum Man is a masterpiece.”
- Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe
“Seamlessly entwining colorful episodes of physics’ most ‘curious character’ with wonderfully clear descriptions of Feynman’s penetrating breakthroughs in quantum theory, Krauss’s account is both entertaining and masterly. A great read.”
- Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality and The Elegant Universe
“Such a charismatic figure deserves a charismatic, knowledgeable, and literate physicist as his warts-and-all biographer. Lawrence Krauss fits the bill admirably and rises to the challenge with style, panache, and deep understanding.”
- Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth
“A lively and engrossing biography of a lively and engrossing man. Krauss recounts the life and ideas of one of the century’s greatest scientist with a deep understanding of both the physics and the man, presented with great lucidity and charm.”
- Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works
- Item Weight : 14.8 ounces
- Hardcover : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393064719
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393064711
- Dimensions : 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated edition (March 21, 2011)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,018,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The biography is essentially aimed at explaining Feynman's scientific contributions, their relevance, importance and uniqueness. Thus Krauss wisely avoids pondering over oft-repeated details about Feynman's personal life. He compresses descriptions of Feynman's childhood, the tragic story of his first wife's death and their extremely touching relationship and his time at Los Alamos into brief paragraphs; if we want to learn more we can look up Gleick or Feynman's own memoirs. What concerns Krauss more than anything else is what made Feynman such a great scientist. And he delivers the goods by diving into the science right away and by explaining what made Feynman so different. Perhaps Feynman's most unique and towering ability was his compulsive need to do things from scratch, work out everything from first principles, understand it inside out, backwards and forwards and from as many different angles as possible. Krauss does a great job in bringing out this almost obsessive tendency to divine the truth from the source. It manifested itself at a very early age when Richard was cranking out original solutions to algebra and arithmetic problems in school. And it was paramount in his Nobel Prize winning work.
Krauss succinctly explains how this intense drive to look at things in new ways allowed Feynman to do novel work during his PhD with John Wheeler at Princeton in which he formulated theories that described antiparticles as particles traveling backwards in time. Later Feynman also applied the same approach in using a novel method based on the principle of least action to explain the dizzying mysteries of quantum electrodynamics. Krauss does an admirable job in explaining the physics behind these contributions in layman's terms. Feynman's "sum over histories" prescription involved taking into consideration all of the infinite paths that a particle can take when getting from the beginning to the end point. This was a bizarre and totally new way of looking at things, but then quantum mechanics is nothing if not bizarre. As Krauss describes, the moment of revelation for Feynman came in a meeting where, using his techniques and intellectual prowess, he could finish in a few hours a complicated calculation for mesons that had taken another researcher several months. Krauss also narrates how Feynman brought the same freewheeling, maverick approach to thinking about superfluidity, beta decay, the strong nuclear force, gravity and computing and the book contains the most complete popular scientific treatments of Feynman's thoughts about these important problems that I have seen. The approach did not always work (as it did not in case of superconductivity) but it encouraged other physicists to think in new ways. In fact as Krauss lucidly narrates, Feynman's great influence on physics was not just through the direct impact of his ideas but also through the impact of his unconventional thinking which inspired students and other scientists to think outside the box.
As scientifically brilliant as Feynman was, Krauss also does not gloss over his professional and personal flaws and this biography is not a hagiography. Professionally, Feynman's independent spirit meant that he often would not read the literature and would stay away from mainstream interests which his colleagues were pursuing; while this greatly helped him, on more than one occasion it led to him being scooped. At the same time Feynman also did not care about priority and was generous in sharing credit. As for mentoring, while Feynman was a legendary teacher by way of example, unlike his own advisor John Wheeler he left few bonafide graduate students because of his compulsive tendency to solve problems himself. On a personal basis, probably the most shocking description concerns Feynman's womanizing. It's hard to say how much of it is true, but Krauss describes Feynman's affairs with colleagues' wives, his elaborate methods to seduce women in bars and the personal and emotional entanglements his womanizing caused. At least one fact is jarring; apparently when he was a young professor at Cornell, the boyish-looking Feynman used to pretend to be a graduate student so he could date undergraduates. This kind of behavior would almost certainly lead to strict disciplinary action in a modern university, if not something more drastic. In his early days Feynman was also known for not suffering fools gladly, although he mellowed as he grew older. Later on Krauss details Feynman's more publicly known activities, including his bongo playing, nude painting and his famous demonstration of the failure of the O-rings in the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Feynman's absolute insistence on honesty and truth in science and on reporting the negative results along with the positive ones also comes across, and should be a model for modern scientists. The biography does a good job of demonstrating that in science, true success needs fearlessness, determination and an unwavering belief in your ideas.
Ultimately, it's not Feynman's bongos, nude art and relentless clowning that make him a great man. However, since his death, he has often been perceived that way by the public largely due to the industry that has grown up around him. But Richard Feynman was defined first and foremost by his science and his striking intellectual originality that allowed him to look at the physical world in wholly unanticipated new ways. Krauss's biography performs a timely and valuable service in reminding us why, when we talk about Feynman, we should first talk about his physics.
· What were Feynman's scientific contributions?
· What influenced his scientific ideas?
· What influence did he have on physics?
· What drove him; in essence what made Feynman one of the seminal physicists of the 20th century?
Addressing these questions required quite a bit of physics, but physics that is presented without a single mathematical equation. This was not an easy task, and in some areas Professor Krauss was more successful than in others. I found Feynman's discussion of QED (in his book of the same name) to be superior to that presented here, but I nonetheless did learn some new ideas from this book concerning this subject. Most importantly, I learned that the idea of renormalization was not Feynman's and that it was not just a piece of slight of hand that had to be introduced to overcome the infinities inherent in the theory. I also got a better appreciation of why it may actually be an indispensable reflection of nature, rather than a mathematical shortcut. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of Feynman's approach to quantum mechanics, his work on superfluidity and nuclear physics, and I found the discussion of quantum computers to be extremely illuminating.
Rather than just building on the work of others, Feynman taught himself why things behaved as they did, thus satisfying his need to understand things in his own unique manner. This led him to develop unique solutions to problems, and while this sometimes led him to lose out in the race for the laurels given to the first to explain phenomena, it often had unexpected payoffs, sometimes decades later.
While there are no equations in the book, it contains a lot of physics and readers with no background in this subject will likely be frustrated and disappointed. Thus, I rate this book at five stars only for those with a decent background in physics. This book is probably not a good choice for those who think, based on the books of Feynman anecdotes, that Feynman is a cool guy and want another book about his life that illustrates this. He was indeed a "cool guy", and I think even more so in the way that he tackled physics problems than in his personal life, and this book does an excellent job of describing this. The book shows that Feynman was a unique physicist, one driven to understand nature, rather than the riches that such an understanding might bring.
Top reviews from other countries
It is, of course, also biographical - personal and anecdotal - but makes no attempt to duplicate other accounts such as James Gleick's "Genius" or Michelle Feynman's "Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the beaten track". By no means a hagiography, it nevertheless displays a personal admiration which accords well with those of other authors, notably Freeman Dyson: "this side idolatry" characterised his regard for Feynman.
The writing is exceptionally good. I have read only the paperback edition which comes with "corrections" by novelist Cormac McCarthy, by which is apparently meant stylistic amendments to the hardback version, including excision of all semi-colons and exclamation marks (one alone survived ... on page 290 it appears, just like this!). Some of the most beautiful passages, though, have a simple elegance which surely could never have survived rewriting. The single paragraph description on p77 of Richard's wedding to Arline is one such masterpiece.
An excellent work in many different ways, it is highly recommended to scientist and lay reader alike.
This is a book that has not only an enlightening worth to it but also a humbling and morale worth to is as well.
People of this ability are rare in today's world.