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Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (original 1992; edition 1993)

by James Gleick

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2,707283,696 (4.04)26
"A genius, a great mathematician once said, performs magic, does things that nobody else could do. To his scientific colleagues, Richard Feynman was a magician of the highest caliber. Architect of quantum theories, enfant terrible of the atomic bomb project, caustic critic of the space shuttle commission, Nobel Prize winner for work that gave physicists a new way of describing and calculating the interactions of subatomic particles, Richard Feynman left his mark on virtually every area of modern physics. Originality was his obsession. Never content with what he knew or with what others knew, Feynman ceaselessly questioned scientific truths. But there was also another side to him, one which made him a legendary figure among scientists. His curiosity moved well beyond things scientific: he taught himself how to play drums, to give massages, to write Chinese, to crack safes. In Genius, James Gleick, author of the acclaimed best-seller Chaos, shows us a Feynman few have seen. He penetrates beyond the gleeful showman depicted in Feynman's own memoirs and reveals a darker Feynman: his ambition, his periods of despair and uncertainty, his intense emotional nature. From his childhood on the beaches and backlots of Far Rockaway and his first tinkering with radios and differential equations to the machine shops at MIT and the early theoretical work at Princeton - work that foreshadowed his famous notion of antiparticles traveling backward in time - to the tragic death of his wife while he was working at Los Alamos, Genius shows how one scientist's vision was formed. As that vision crystallized in work that reinvented quantum mechanics, we see Feynman's impact on the elite particle-physics community, and how Feynman grew to be at odds with the very community that idolized him. Finally, Gleick explores the nature of genius, our obsession with it and why the very idea may belong to another time. Genius records the life of a scientist who has forever changed science - and changed what it means to know something in this uncertain century"--Jacket.… (more)
Member:jtcooper
Title:Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman
Authors:James Gleick
Info:Vintage (1993), Paperback, 560 pages
Collections:Your library
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Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick (1992)

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» See also 26 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
For those who know of Richard Feynman, I salute you.

This biography by Gleik, the writer that made [b:Chaos: Making a New Science|64582|Chaos Making a New Science|James Gleick|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1327941595l/64582._SY75_.jpg|62690] a household name, tries, mostly successfully, to give us the same treatment about Feynman.

I was fascinated throughout. I've only heard a few funny anecdotes about the man and everyone seems to concur that he's one hell of a genius, but it's better to get into ALL the aspects. Humor, the heartwarming bits, the slightly frustrating but mostly amazing rise of his career as a physicist... all of these things pop out on the page.

An iconoclast? Possibly. But I see him more like a man who, from near-first principles, derived a new way of looking at the universe without bothering to read the majority of the works that came before. He was always shaking things up, keeping his mind agile, and never letting himself succumb to that most horrible of states: rigidity. He was well aware of the tendency of scientists with their pet theories to become ossified the longer they protected their positions.

Feynman always rode the high wave of creativity and originality. He may not have always been successful, but he never took himself too seriously despite being an integral part of quantum physics. Strong, Weak, and EM forces? Oh, yeah.

This book truly humanizes him but also rises above normal biographies in that it postulates, rightly so, a wide and specific theory of what makes Genius. It also comes to some conclusions that shed a bit of light on our own world, too.

For one: where are all the geniuses? :) The answer? They're all around us. And it's often hard to pick certain creative geniuses out of a crowd because the market might be saturated with tons of people who stand on the backs of giants.

One could argue that Richard Feynman was very lucky to have come around at exactly the right time, work on the first atomic bomb, and be surrounded by so many other brilliant minds. His bouts of isolation and creativity were bolstered by others.

Who knows? Without biographies like this, he might have disappeared into footnotes, too.

No one ever really sees the worth of the people around them while they're living. ; ;
( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
marvellous, fascinating character ( )
  TonyAnderson | Oct 16, 2019 |
A remarkable book about a remarkable man. Gleick does as good a job as anyone can at 1) explaining another person and 2) explaining the physics that has gone beyond what the eye can see, the hand can feel, and the average person can comprehend. ( )
  dasam | Jun 21, 2018 |
In Genius, James Gleick has the same problem with Richard Feynman that Robert Kanigel had with Ramanujan in The Man Who Knew Infinity. If you are writing about a genius in literature, you can include excerpts from their works; if a genius painter, pictures of their paintings; if a genius musician, recordings of their music; and thus give some level of accessibility to readers who don’t happen to be geniuses. With a genius in science or mathematics, you’re out of luck; thus, there are some equations in Genius, and some Feynman diagrams, but they don’t really help very much. Biographers of scientific geniuses are reduced to stressing eccentricities – on the order of “Well, perhaps Albert Einstein was the greatest physicist who ever lived, but he never wore socks”. (In fact, Einstein is mentioned in Genius, when Feynman goes to visit him at Princeton – and it’s noted that Einstein was wearing shoes, but no socks). If you’re a genius with no eccentricity besides your scientific ability, your biographers will be lost – in fact, you probably won’t get a biography at all. (Example: there’s only one person ever to win two Nobel Prizes in physics. Their personal life was perfectly ordinary. Name this person).

So, we get Feynman the eccentric – playing the bongos, cracking safes at Los Alamos, “womanizing”, juicy details. Gleick notes Feynman cultivated this to a small extent; but he also enjoyed the challenges of playing the bongos, cracking safes, and women. There’s nothing that gives me a real understanding of Feynman’s physics – because I’m not a genius and I wouldn’t understand it. Ah well, there’s always the Lectures. ( )
3 vote setnahkt | Jan 26, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
In "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman" Mr. Gleick, a former science reporter for The New York Times and the author of "Chaos," demonstrates a great ability to portray scientific people and places and to dramatize the emergence of new ideas.

Trying to explain scientific work of the caliber of Feynman's is a difficult undertaking, however, especially if one tries to do it without resort to much mathematics, as Mr. Gleick does. But despite the lack of authentic science, one can thoroughly enjoy this well-researched biography for its picture of Feynman and his world.
added by mikeg2 | editNew York Times, Walter Moore (Oct 11, 1992)
 

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Gleick, Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Minucci, SergioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I was born not knowing
and have only had a little time to change that here and there.

-Richard Feynman
Dedication
For my mother and father,
Beth and Donen
First words
Nothing is certain. (Prologue)
Eventually the art went out of radio tinkering.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (4)

"A genius, a great mathematician once said, performs magic, does things that nobody else could do. To his scientific colleagues, Richard Feynman was a magician of the highest caliber. Architect of quantum theories, enfant terrible of the atomic bomb project, caustic critic of the space shuttle commission, Nobel Prize winner for work that gave physicists a new way of describing and calculating the interactions of subatomic particles, Richard Feynman left his mark on virtually every area of modern physics. Originality was his obsession. Never content with what he knew or with what others knew, Feynman ceaselessly questioned scientific truths. But there was also another side to him, one which made him a legendary figure among scientists. His curiosity moved well beyond things scientific: he taught himself how to play drums, to give massages, to write Chinese, to crack safes. In Genius, James Gleick, author of the acclaimed best-seller Chaos, shows us a Feynman few have seen. He penetrates beyond the gleeful showman depicted in Feynman's own memoirs and reveals a darker Feynman: his ambition, his periods of despair and uncertainty, his intense emotional nature. From his childhood on the beaches and backlots of Far Rockaway and his first tinkering with radios and differential equations to the machine shops at MIT and the early theoretical work at Princeton - work that foreshadowed his famous notion of antiparticles traveling backward in time - to the tragic death of his wife while he was working at Los Alamos, Genius shows how one scientist's vision was formed. As that vision crystallized in work that reinvented quantum mechanics, we see Feynman's impact on the elite particle-physics community, and how Feynman grew to be at odds with the very community that idolized him. Finally, Gleick explores the nature of genius, our obsession with it and why the very idea may belong to another time. Genius records the life of a scientist who has forever changed science - and changed what it means to know something in this uncertain century"--Jacket.

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Richard Feynman è stato certamente uno dei massimi scienziati del nostro secolo. La sua personalità complessa è diventata leggendaria. Enfant terrible del programma atomico, architetto delle teorie quantistiche, inventore dei celebri diagrammi che portano il suo nome, vulcanico suonatore di bongo e fantastico narratore, infaticabile seduttore, in grado di spiegare la causa del disastro dello Shuttle con un bicchier d'acqua e un anello di gomma, Feynman aveva una personalità al di fuori da ogni regola. L'autore esplora i sentieri dell'intelligenza, della personalità, ma anche delle emozioni e della creatività di un Genio. Racconta la vertiginosa evoluzione della fisica nel nostro secolo, spiegandola al profano.
(piopas)
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