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Review: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

I'm probably the last person on earth to read "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!", a collection of stories and anecdotes from the life of Richard Feynman. But better late than never.

I'll keep this short. Feynman was the kind of nerd every nerd wishes he was, in one way or another. He was socially awkward. He was blunt and tactless. He felt out of place much of the time. And it was surprising to see how often Feynman expressed feelings of inadequacy. He wrote about being highly intimidated when talking in front of big names in physics, and jealous of the math abilities of some other people.

But none of that stopped him from having an exciting life. In fact he turned these traits to his advantage. He had romantic success, often via very highly unconventional means (e.g. walking up to girls and asking them for sex outright; they often said yes). His bluntness was seen as an admirable trait: where others might be intimidated by a famous physicist, Feynman would give his honest opinion, and that was often appreciated.

And Feynman went far outside his comfort zone. He did a stint in biology, even though he knew nothing of biology at the time. He went to Brazil and joined a samba band. He sold drawings and paintings for a while. He played drums for a ballet.

I picked up at least three lessons from this book.

  1. Try new things, even if you suck at them. Life is boring if you stick to what you're good at.

  2. Be intellectually honest. Brutally so. It's the only way to do good science, and arguably the only way to live a good life. I've always believed this, and Feynman hammers the point home well.

  3. Even the best and brightest of us feel insecure at times. You shouldn't let it stop you.

On top of all of that, reading of Feynman's time at Los Alamos working on The Bomb was a fascinating piece of history. I highly recommend this book.

And watch as much of Feynman on Youtube as you can find. It never ceases to be fascinating.

July 26, 2010 @ 9:19 AM PDT
Cateogory: Book Reviews


Andres F.
Quoth Andres F. on July 27, 2010 @ 2:05 AM PDT

I'm sorry to take your title away so soon, but I haven't finished reading it yet :p

+1 for Feynman on youtube — I particularly like the clips where he talks about his father.

Quoth Bleys on July 27, 2010 @ 3:59 AM PDT

I'm sorry, but I think Richard Feynman is quite mad

Quoth John on July 28, 2010 @ 11:47 AM PDT

I'm sorry, but I think Richard Feynman is quite mad

Was. We lost him in '88.

Feynman was a very curious character. :)

Quoth robert on August 06, 2010 @ 5:43 AM PDT

You should also check out "What Do You Care What Other People Think?". It's just as good.

Quoth Brian on August 06, 2010 @ 5:44 AM PDT

Yep, I just bought it. Halfway through. Good stuff.