Friday, February 22, 2013

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

1985, 1986 Bantam edition
Richard P. Feynman as told to Ralph Leighton, edited by Edward Hutchings
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character
Original price $4.50, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback with a lot of yellowing

Feynman is a good storyteller, and his life makes for good stories.  He's possibly the most down-to-earth Nobel prize winner ever, and he was probably a very good teacher.  He talks about science (not just his field of physics), as well as his experiments with music and art, gambling and safe-cracking.  There are times when he's amoral, which is unsettling, but he seems to acknowledge it.  To take the second biggest example, he "learns" that women (at least some of the women who hang out in bars) like to be treated like dirt.  He doesn't become abusive, but he is rude, and yes, he gets laid.  And when he works on The Bomb, he treats it just like another of the puzzles that have fascinated him since his childhood when he fixed radios.  (He's curious in more than one sense.)  One of his colleagues tells him that he has no obligation to be socially responsible, which eases his mind when he briefly has doubts.  I can't say I admire him, but he's definitely interesting, and at least he's not hypocritically pretending to be moral.

I liked this book enough to get the "sequel," What Do You Care What Other Think?, which we'll get to in 1988 (the year he died).  As its title suggests, Feynman is equally individualistic in that book.

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