In the nuclear physics and Nobel Laureate world, there is no one like Feynman--the trickster, the bongo player, the...


SURELY YOU'RE JOKING, MR. FEYNMAN"": Adventures of a Curious Character

In the nuclear physics and Nobel Laureate world, there is no one like Feynman--the trickster, the bongo player, the safecracker at Los Alamos. This book, pure Feynman, is a wonderful series of short takes, mementos of a career longer than one might suppose (he was born in 1918)--complete with spellings like ""fella"" and lots of sound effects. Life begins in Far Rockaway (Long Island, N. Y.) with the boy tinkerer, the kid who could fix radios. It goes on to MIT and Princeton, whence the title. At the initial tea for graduate students, Feynman was asked by the. dean's wife whether he'd take lemon or cream: ""Both,"" replied Feynman-the-bold-but-uncertain. Social gaffes and social jokes--the latter gaining over the former--were ingrained in the life style. Niels Bohr invited him to Los Alamos because, it later turned out, Bohr sensed that only Feynman would be sufficiently unawed to tell him whether or not his latest ideas were any good. Long settled in at Caltech, Feynman has demonstrated a commitment to teaching, as well as surpassing creativity in his field. And, underlying the bravura tales, there is a quietly insistent passion for truth and for physics. He has asked Nick the Greek how he makes money gambling: ""I thanked him for the explanation; now I understood it. I have to understand the world, you see."" That compulsion led Feynman to experiment on himself--with hypnotism, with watching himself in dreams, with exploring hallucinations like those produced in John Lilly's sengory-deprivation water tanks. All those experiences are described, along with the insight that what one experiences in hallucinations are not revelations which explain the non-hallucinatory world. Satisfying curiosity, however, is not stretched to suspension of reason. This Feynman makes clear in the last memoir, adapted from a commencement speech called ""Cargo Cult Science."" Here he lays out straight just what science is and is not. Top-notch reading--and a treat for those who may not already know of Feynman's fine madness.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 1984

ISBN: 0393316041

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1984

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