Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Book Review: Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Can an extraordinary scientist be at the same time a really funny man? Can he be a trickster of the highest degree? Well, after reading Richard P. Feynman’s series of biographical anecdotes titled “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman”, I am sure everyone will agree to it. Feynman was one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the 20th century who got the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. Apart from being an excellent physicist, Feynman was at the same time an extraordinary teacher and a passionate human being. Feynman had a charm and wit that made the world seem so real, so easy. His rugged looks and an extraordinary sense of self-confidence made him a natural with anybody to talk to. This book is a collection of written our taped conversations that Feynman had with his long-time friend Ralph Leighton. The style of the book is not at all autobiographical, but we do see a trait of an autobiography in it.

Feynman was a scientist, an artist, an accomplished bongo drummer and a marvellous human being all rolled into one. The book is full of stories about how Feynman was instigated towards science by his father right from his childhood, how he learned how to repair radios when he was a kid, how he worked in the top secret Manhattan project where he even learned how to crack safes that were full of nuclear secrets, etc. This book is a treasure trove of amazing as well as highly entertaining fun filled anecdotes about one of the most amazing geniuses of the last century.

Feynman’s style can be said to be contagious in the sense that you would love to emulate him in what you do, but which seems to be quite difficult really. The book is a must read for anyone who has a scientific bent of mind. It will teach us how to keep our cool even in tense situations and how to think like with zeal and how to live a life that is truly ‘king size’. One of the most important character traits of Feynman that is amplified in this book is his curious nature. His zeal and passion to know about everything that can be known, to try and learn new things every day is just mind blowing. Even to his death bed, he had this desire to understand the universe better and to explain it in a beautiful way.

One very important thing about the book that makes it one of the most readable accounts of Feynman’s life is its absence of any technical details about his career in physics. Although, physics does take a cener stage in many of the stories that are told, but the reader is never lost in a quagmire of technical equations that are better left to the specialists of the subject. This is perhaps the single most important reason that makes this book readable by a wider section of the people.

The book is a perfect blend of amazing story telling and teaching us some very basic moral responsibilities. All in all, a must read for anyone who wants to have some fun reading and who wants to see how to enjoy life in a better and more fun way. This book would definitely be a perfect companion in any pleasure trip or to take one’s mind off work. Just give it a shot, and I am sure you will come out the wiser.

Author: Richard P. Feynman, Ralph Leighton

Publisher: Bantam Books

Rating: 4.9/5

Reviewer: Manjil P. Saikia (A Feynmanist)

[This review was published here.]