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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) Paperback – April 17, 1997
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A series of anecdotes shouldn't by rights add up to an autobiography, but that's just one of the many pieces of received wisdom that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) cheerfully ignores in his engagingly eccentric book, a bestseller ever since its initial publication in 1985. Fiercely independent (read the chapter entitled "Judging Books by Their Covers"), intolerant of stupidity even when it comes packaged as high intellectualism (check out "Is Electricity Fire?"), unafraid to offend (see "You Just Ask Them?"), Feynman informs by entertaining. It's possible to enjoy Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman simply as a bunch of hilarious yarns with the smart-alecky author as know-it-all hero. At some point, however, attentive readers realize that underneath all the merriment simmers a running commentary on what constitutes authentic knowledge: learning by understanding, not by rote; refusal to give up on seemingly insoluble problems; and total disrespect for fancy ideas that have no grounding in the real world. Feynman himself had all these qualities in spades, and they come through with vigor and verve in his no-bull prose. No wonder his students--and readers around the world--adored him. --Wendy Smith
“A storyteller in the tradition of Mark Twain. He proves once again that it is possible to laugh out loud and scratch your head at the same time.”
- New York Times Book Review
“Quintessential Feynman―funny, brilliant, bawdy . . . enormously entertaining.”
- The New Yorker
“Buzzes with energy, anecdote and life. It almost makes you want to become a physicist.”
- Science Digest
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Unlike many autobiographies he does not attempt to improve your opinion of him, but rather tries to help you improve the way you see the world. This book should be mandatory reading for educators, scientists, and those that want to live a full life full of adventure like Dr. Feynman.
The book has a verbatim feel to it, probably because it was transcribed by Robert Leighton from conversations with Feynmann. Possibly because of this, the language is direct in a rather attractive American way.
For those interested in further Feynmann adventures there is a sequelWhat Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character. This also contains something very serious and instructive: an annex on Feynmann's work on the enquiry into the Space Shuttle challenger accident. A fascinating complement to these books is Alan Alda's essay on the play he put on about Feynmann, covering in particular the difficulty of capturing such a rich personality in a 90 minute play. This can be found in Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself