Surely You're Joking, MR Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character as Told to Ralph Leighton

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9780099173311: Surely You're Joking, MR Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character as Told to Ralph Leighton

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965, Richard Feynman was one of the world's greatest theoretical physicists, but he was also a man who fell, often jumped, into adventure. An artist, safecracker, practical joker and storyteller, Feynman's life was a series of combustible combinations made possible by his unique mixture of high intelligence, unquenchable curiosity and eternal scepticism. Over a period of years, Feynman's conversations with his friend Ralph Leighton were first taped and then set down as they appear here, little changed from their spoken form, giving a wise, funny, passionate and totally honest self-portrait of one of the greatest men of our age.

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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

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