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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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Dr. Feynman’s delight with life shines through everything--nothing gets him down for long. The reasons for this attitude are his ever-present compulsion to learn and discover, his urge to follow his insatiable curiosity (about everything!) wherever it might lead, his willingness to simply state whatever he thinks when asked, and his refusal to always take life so seriously. It is evident that Dr. Feynman has achieved what many can only dream of--living a meaningful and accomplished life while still being able to find absolute joy and fun in so much of how we spend that life.
It’s hard to imagine anyone that would not find this an interesting and enjoyable read. Although Dr. Feynman is a physicist, this is not a science book, and the reader really needs nothing in the way of a scientific background to fully enjoy it.
The book is divided into five parts corresponding to different parts of the author’s life. Within each part, the stories themselves are rarely more than half a dozen pages long, and none depend on the others. Although I read it cover-to-cover in order, it would be easy to open to any of the stories and read it independently. It is one of those books one could pick up when there are only a few minutes to read. But your experience may be like mine, and you may not want to put it down again!
Highly recommended for just about anyone!
The last chapter is something else entirely: an entire philosophy and ethos of scientific thought rolled into a few pages. I found Feynman's principles and ideals for scientific integrity almost unbelievably precious: to never compromise on experimentation, to never make claims you can't back up with hard evidence, and most importantly, to never fool yourself into thinking that you're more right than you actually are.
Although only the scientifically or mathematically trained will understand much about Feynman's actual work, his life philosophy and its implications are something that everyone can benefit from. The world would be a better place if each of us tried to replicate just a little of his intellectual integrity. I almost didn't believe such beautiful, pure intellectual idealism wasn't possible until I read this book.
This is not a literary book. It is a conversation, with all of the self-absorption along with more than a little self-deprecation that such introspections typically bring. But, Feynman's work product continues to be a huge force in physics today and he worked with and knew many of those more publicly exposed scientists of the 20th Century. That makes the conversation worth listening to without the speaker picking up the bar tab. His science is wonderful. His morality...not so much.
Reading the book, it is almost impossible not to draw comparisons between what Feynman was able to achieve under the conditions and tools available to him at that time, and the work of some of the leading public science advocates today. Feynman doesn't lose in the comparison.
Lawrence Krauss recently wrote a biography on Feynman. If you are able to only purchase one of these books, I recommend Feynman's own view of himself as the starting point.
Richard Feynman was a brilliant scientist who helped advance his field and scientific thought.
But more than that he was an interesting character, a joker, and a prankster who had a refreshing perspective on life.
Well grounded and humble for someone who had contributed to his field so much.
Feynman starts from when he was young and describes how he got into physics, attending college, working on the first atomic bomb, getting the Nobel prize, struggling against government bureaucracy, and how he helped solve the problem with the 1986 space shuttle disaster.
I got this for my dad and he loved it also.