“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard P. Feynman

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

“Later on I told this story at college to my fraternity brothers and they said, “Nonsense! You can’t do that!” (I often had this problem of demonstrating to these fellas something that they didn’t believe – like the time we got into an argument as to whether urine just ran out of you by gravity, and I had to demonstrate that this wasn’t the case by showing them that you can pee standing on your head.)”

You guys, this is the third Feynman book I’ve read this year! And I’m running out of way to say that he seemed like such a cool person, and you should check him out. This book is similar to The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, in that it’s really a collection of reflections by Feynman, except that this is more reflections on his life in general. I’ll be honest – even though I read and understood most of Six Easy Pieces by him, his physics and science talk still kind of intimidates me. He was smart on a level I can’t even understand. But what’s really cool in these memoir-ish books of his is that you can see how weirdly his mind worked, and what a crazy kind of person he was. The dude lived in Brazil, travelled to Mexico and Japan, hung out with Las Vegas show girls, studied hallucinations, worked on the atomic bomb, was annoyed that he won that Nobel Prize, excelled at things like playing drums and learning how to draw… he just had so much INTEREST in everything, and then totally went for it. He kind of wanted to learn how to draw because he didn’t really “get” art – he ended up actually selling his drawings and being successful at it. He started screwing around with drums because he was bored, and he ended up playing them for people in plays and in recordings for dancers. It’s NUTS, but so awesome.

Another thing I kind of realize – he was a bit of an ass. I mean really, he was a bit cocky, he seemed a bit loose in his relations with women, he took a stand on weird things (like being annoyed that he had to show receipts to get his travel expenses paid), etc. BUT he was also so weirdly cool and actually had a lot of integrity, and he just seemed like a fascinating person because HE was fascinated by a lot of things. There aren’t a lot of dead famous people that I would want to meet, but I think Feynman would be one of them. Anyways, this is a good classic memoir by a physicist, you don’t have to be science-y smart to read and enjoy it, and it’s especially perfect for reading a chapter or two at a time and then coming back to. And now I leave you with some more random quotes that I highlighted:

“It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”

“I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It’s difficult to describe because it’s an emotion….. It’s an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It’s a feeling of awe – of scientific awe – which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who also had this emotion. It could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.”

Sarah Says: 5 stars

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4 comments

  1. That seems like such a “you” book 🙂 This year you inspired me to try and read more non-fiction, which is what I will try next year. (I ordered Packing for Mars by Mary Roach this morning – along with War and Peace *cough). I will maybe not read that much physics related stuff as you and start with easier things though – was hopeless at maths and physics back at school 🙂

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    1. I just ordered Packing for Mars on Sunday night! How funny.

      I’m still terrible at math, but there seems to be a lot of “science in layman’s terms” books around these days – Michio Kaku, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene (so I hear, but I haven’t read him yet), Brian Cox, John Gribbin, etc. I love that scientists are making an effort to explain things in ways we can understand 🙂

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  2. I was dreadful with math and science when I was in school, but I regret more and more not trying harder to stick with them. I think I’d have gotten a lot of out of them if I’d come to them a few years later — instead I was socialized out of them in middle school like a BIG CLICHE. So when all my mathy sciencey friends were reading Richard Feynman I was, um, not doing that. I want to though! I love your excerpts, particularly the one about why he wanted to do art. I have the same inclination but no talent. :p

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    1. I was ALSO terrible at math and science. I’m really super bad at math, which is why some physics stuff still goes over my head, btu I’ve realized that science is much cooler, and much explained, now that I’m an adult reading stuff on my own. Feynman mentioned looking at middle school science textbooks and being irritated because they’re so vague and don’t actually define anything – like “energy does this and energy does that” without ever saying what energy IS, and I was like “I REMEMBER THAT!! YES!”

      I think you would enjoy Feynman – this one, or The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. This one is longer, but focuses more on his life experiences, which is pretty cool.

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