Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

surely you're joking mr. FeynmanSurely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman
By Richard Feynman

Narrated by Raymond Todd

When reading books about Physics for layman, Richard Feynman’s name comes up.  His name seems most frequently mentioned as an aside suggesting that Feynman is preternaturally able to explain complex scientific ideas in simple terms.


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The recurrance of Feynman’s name led to a search for something written by Feynman to see what gave him the reputation for making abstruse science understandable.  “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” barely scratches the surface of Feynman’s ability to translate science.  However, it is an interesting memoir of a man that is widely acknowledged as a very bright person; possibly a genius.

Feynman is the exact opposite of Paul Durac in the sense that he was interesting to be around.  He was a good conversationalist.  This memoir reinforces that perception.  Feynman seems to be self-effacing and extraordinarily curious in “Surely You’re Joking….”

The book covers Feynman’s life, before college, during college, and in young adulthood.  The first half of the book shows a curious young boy fascinated by radios and compelled to mystify his neighbors with his uncanny ability to understand how they work and how to fix them.  Feynman goes to MIT for a physics degree and later to Princeton without seeming to understand how famous he is becoming.  He tells of experiences in his life ranging from having a bar fight to getting a reputation as a safe cracker to participating in The Manhattan Project.

A strikingly foolish social observation made in “Surely You’re Joking…” is Feynman’s comment about how to convince a girl to sleep with you.  His observation reflects a certain social ineptitude and a naïve understanding of himself.  Feynman says he became successful in seducing a particular woman by ignoring her, refusing to buy her a drink, refusing to offer dinner, and projecting an image of personal indifference.  He suggests that it worked so well that he quit using the technique.  The naiveté of Feynman’s social observation is his failure to understand his innate sociability and a growing fame that attracted companions.

The book allegedly sold over 500,000 copies; more than its substance deserves.  The best one might say about the book is that it gives one the feeling that Feynman could be a friend to anyone.  On the other hand, the book suggests his intelligence would make most of those friended feel like dunderheads.

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