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Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman! :…

"Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!" : adventures of a curious character (1985)

by Richard Feynman

Other authors: Edward Hutchings, Ralph Leighton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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  1. 20
    What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P. Feynman (qball56k)
    qball56k: If you liked Surely You're Joking, you'll probably like the sequel as well. It's in many ways a more personal look at one of the most famous physicists of the 20th century.
  2. 10
    Absolute Zero Gravity: Science Jokes, Quotes and Anecdotes by Betsy Devine (Musecologist)
  3. 21
    Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (noise)
    noise: Both Tony Bourdain and Richard Feynman have (had) an incredible knack for writing highly informative and page turning memoirs. If you've read one but not the other, you're in for a treat.

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Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
This was an entertaining and occasionally insightful collection of anecdotes from Richard Feynman's life. On rare occasions, the need to explain some mathematical point revealed (once again) how dim I am on these subjects. However, this is Feynman's most popular book, and it's intended for a general audience, so the stories never turn on these points. Very consistently, Feynman proves to be very funny, interesting, and self-admittedly mischievous.

In skimming some reviews here on Goodreads, I saw that a few readers found Feynman a bit irritating. This is an interesting response. I can see how his irreverence and tendency toward argument could rub some the wrong way. But either through virtue of judicious editing or a truly balanced personal character, the Feynman who emerges from this book is a responsible, compassionate, and hard-working guy. And of course he is brilliant, idiosyncratic, and amusing at the same time. You'd be hard-pressed to find another Nobel Prize-winning physicist with this same combination of qualities. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
Richard Feynman was one of the most interesting and talented physicists of the twentieth century. He won the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work in quantum electrodynamics. He worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos and taught students at Cornell and Caltech. In Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman! : adventures of a curious character Feynman talks about his life and work. But not what you may expect! He is irreverent and funny, a musician (the frigideira was his main instrument but he played other percussion instruments), a safecracker (see the story on file cabinets), budding artist, and generally nice person. He describes great scientists of the day like Einstein and Bohr, Jimmy the Greek, and students. There are travels to Japan and to Brazil, interactions with the new computers, and nights in bars. Feynman also covers things like how textbooks for students in elementary/secondary grades are selected (you won’t believe it), the Nobel Prize, and languages. There is also mathematics and science, Feynman’s great love.

You do not need to understand the science to appreciate Feynman’s memoirs and his insights into how science works and how it doesn’t. I heartily recommend this for all serious and not-so-serious physics students. ( )
  fdholt | Jan 22, 2014 |
Short anecdotes, three to twenty pages long, about life as a student, as a very junior member of the team that built the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, as a physicist rising through the world of the best physicists in the world during the 40's through the 70's.

The last essay, "Cargo Cult Science," ought to be read by everyone at least once a year, to keep us all honest in reaching our conclusions when we think seriously about things. At the end he says, "So I have just one wish for you -- the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, of financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom." ( )
  wrk1 | Jan 15, 2014 |
Sort of autobiogrpahy of the life of the famous physicist. Doesn't actually contain much science at all, mostly it s justa series of tales of what he was doing besides science throughout his life. It is an intersting cultural snapshot of life in the US through the mid 1900s.

Richard had a curiosu mind, honest and straightforward. He didn't really give a damm about anyone else's feelings. Understanding the world around was key, vital and people didn't need to get precious about it. He'd happily admit he was wrong if that ever happened. He frequently comments on how he didn't understand something straightaway, and how he often felt a fake when offered or promoted positions of responsability. If Feynman feels that way I'm sure us ordinary people can cope with little doubt!

There are some great scenes surrounding the Atomic bomb Manhatten project. ANd his frequent irritation with all the attention his Nobel Prize got him. I would have liked a nit more detail on the science behind that as it was barely mentioned. I could have coped with a lot more science in general. But this is the popular face of Feynmen. Living and free thinking - logically thinking through and understanding everything around him.

I'm sure modern feminists will be outraged at his attitude to women - he goes on great quests to try and understand their behavior, just looking for ways to have sex. I read it as commentary on the times as they were then. There is no explanation from Feynman, no attempt to cast historical cultures in todays lights. A lot of the set-up for formal dances, introductions etc, seems very odd now. It was the changing of cultures from the old way to the more current interactions. I don't think Feynman himself thought women were in anyway inferior, it certainly didn't come across that way. But there are few instances of him dealing with them at a professional level.

At times it is very funny. But ther eis little personal emotion in it. He describes making time to visit his terminally ill wife, briefly, amd after that there are just names he associates with rather than the depth of emotion that must have been there. I did feel that this was a censored public account of his life, and that there were far more riotious stories that could have been told!

It was interesting reading - how someone so intelligent looks at the world and is just another guy most of the time. ( )
  reading_fox | Oct 14, 2013 |
To anyone who would describe Richard Feynman as humble or self-deprecating after reading this book: you have been fooled. As another reviewer put it, "he's affecting humility." He strikes me as arrogant, horribly sexist, and backhanded. Regrettably, he displays one of the worst stereotypes of physicists: see http://xkcd.com/793/.

Feynman is even worse than this xkcd character. He's careful enough to present faux humility while being dismissive of other fields through backhanded compliments or subtle self-deprecation. Even a pompous ass knows enough to try not to come across as one in an autobiography. I'm quite certain that, had this book been published 25 years later, the most egregious examples of sexism would have been omitted as well.

In a section where he recalls a dalliance in biology, Feynman suggests he could have authored a major paper:

"It would have been a fantastic and vital discovery if I had been a good biologist. But I wasn’t a good biologist."

...If only he had the experience to know how to handle samples. As if that is the only thing separating this great thinker from the best minds in biology - lab techniques. He later says the one thing took home from his time in biology labs was how to unscrew his toothpaste tube with one hand.

Feynman continues with similar examples in other fields. For instance, he could have been a truly great musician if only he were willing to learn sheet music. I have little doubt that a great mind like his could have been successful in any of these fields, if he had dedicated his life to it. Like he did with physics. Sure, he could dabble in his diversions and become 90% as capable as the best. The same would be true of Feynman if he merely dabbled in physics. It is the combination of a great mind *and* years of dedication that gains you that last 10%. Only then can the great discoveries and fame come.

In another anecdote, Feynman gives an example criticizing the bureaucracy involved in getting paid for a publicly funded lecture. He says he will do it, but only if he has to sign no more than 12 documents. He signs 11 times, leaving one autograph for signing the cheque for payment, and gives the lecture. But it turns out there is another document to sign before he can be paid, so he refuses payment. How noble (*rolls eyes*). In another example, he reveals inefficiencies and corruption in the evaluation process for public school textbooks.

People of a certain anti-government political stripe will latch onto these anecdotes and claim Feynman as one of their own, but I think that is misguided. Feynman offers no serious answers for the problems (beyond "just trust me because I'm a well-known physicist" for the lecture example). In one case he complains about too much bureaucracy (oversight), in the other case he complains there is not enough oversight (bureaucracy). I really loathe the "ivory tower" criticism, but... can Feynman really think everyone involved in the lecture circuit is as honest and honourable as he? And although early education is not perfect, anyone with any sense realizes it is a public good. Sure, the inefficiencies and corruption are a problem, but they can be reduced and they will always be lesser than the alternative. Feynman is not sufficiently interested to delve into such nuances - they're small potatoes for Richard P. Feynman, The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Overall, I am quite ambivalent about it. Coming from a physics background, I am grateful for his accomplishments and for his considerable contributions to teaching physics. His stories are often enlightening and funny. But I just can't get past the sexism, the arrogance, and the self-serving nature of the man evident in this book. ( )
  jeffjardine | Sep 26, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Feynman, Richardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hutchings, Edwardsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Leighton, Ralphsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Balibar, FrançoiseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bou, LuisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klíma, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393316041, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:40 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In this phenomenal bestseller, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums--and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature. Photos.… (more)

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