This is one of my most favorite books and Feynman is one of my favorite scientists. I read this book again this year, since it had been more than a decade since I last read this book. It was almost like reading it for the first time since I did not remember most part of the book.
Feynman was a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965. He was one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists. This book is a collection of snippets from his adventurous life. This was THE book that made me go crazy about science. This time when I read the book, I realized he was always interested in learning – from science, Spanish, Portugese, Japanese, drums, art history, drawing, Brazilian music, cracking safes to experiencing hallucinations. There was probably nothing that he was not interested in. Through this book, we get a brief glimpse into his life.
What made me love this book so much along with my favorite quotes from the book –
1. He had his own lab at home and he did experiments with his lamp bank, motor, switches etc. I did such experiments too when I was young. His experiments with ants was fascinating.
2. While at MIT, he notices how people hardly learn by understanding –
“I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding; they learn by some other way – by rote, or something. Their knowledge is so fragile”.
3. He worked as a chief research chemist and worked on metal-plating plastics. It was something that he had no expertise in, but still he excelled in it.
4. He gave a seminar in biology department at Harvard.
“I always do that, get into something and see how far I can go” – being a physicist, he was interested in biology too.
5. The most interesting part of the book has to be the section that talks about his work on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. It was the first time that I read a first hand account on what it was like working on the bomb in secrecy. The chapters about the mails from his wife, cracking the safe, computing using the Marchant and IBM machines were the best chapters in the entire book.
6. He used to enjoy physics and play with physics –
“I’d invent things and play with things for my own entertainment”.
7. The only chapters in the book that I did not quite enjoy reading were the ones which spoke about all the women he hooked up or flirted with. I felt those were unnecessary in a book that talks about his science and some of the interesting hobbies that he pursued.
8. Another interesting chapter was the one about his time in Brazil. His observations about students not understanding what they are studying was bang on. I could relate their education system to the one in India. People can pass and excel exams but cannot apply what they have learnt in school in solving a problem.
“Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words…. They could pass the examinations, and “learn” all this stuff, and not know anything at all, except what they had memorized… I said I couldn’t see how anyone could be educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything”.
9. I liked the chapter that talks about his experience in Japan. I had no idea Japanese hotels were that different from western hotels.
10. I also found the chapter on evaluation of school textbooks to be interesting. He had some valid points there too.
“I feel that human beings should treat human beings like human beings.”
“Ordinary fools are all right; you can talk to them, and try to help them out. But pompous fools – guys who are fools and are covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus – that, I cannot stand!”
“It’s because somebody knows something about it that we can’t talk about physics. It’s the things that nobody knows anything about that we can discuss”.
That’s so true.
13. He delves into art history too as he gives a lecture on Mayan mathematics and astronomy. I had fun reading about the codex and also reading more about it on the Internet.
14. My favorite quote from the book has to be the one about scientific integrity –
“You must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists”.
Read this book whether you like science or not. It’s truly an amazing book!