Genius (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Richard Feynman was a well-known and highly esteemed theoretical physicist, a member of a new group of theoreticians who came to the forefront in the years following World War II. Their backgrounds differed from those of previous generations of theoretical physicists in many ways, among which were their American nationality, their Jewish ancestry, and their early childhood experience in New York City. This group included J. Robert Oppenheimer, Julian Schwinger, Murray Gell-Mann, Sheldon Glashow, and Steven Weinberg. All of them, except Oppenheimer, became recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Feynman publicly revealed in anecdotal fashion many details of his personality and activities, in and out of physics, in two autobiographical books, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character (1985) and “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”: Further Adventures of a Curious Character (1988). Both of these books were transcribed by Ralph Leighton, a personal friend and associate, from tape recordings made by Feynman. The second of these books was published after Feynman’s death from cancer on February 15, 1988.
The use of the word “curious” in the subtitles of these books can be understood in two senses: as the description of Feynman’s own curiosity and as the way that he was perceived by others, as being different or unusual. When British physicist Freeman Dyson first became...
(The entire section is 1671 words.)
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Genius (Magill Book Reviews)
GENIUS: THE LIFE AND SCIENCE OF RICHARD FEYNMAN is the biography of one of the twentieth century’s most original thinkers. Feynman was known by the public for his work on the CHALLENGER investigation and through two best-selling collections of personal anecdotes; his real celebrity, however, lay within the scientific community. His fellow scientists, especially the physicists, saw him as possessing an uncanny insight into the workings of nature. Some admirers believed that Feynman’s intuitive powers were rivaled in our century only by Albert Einstein.
Gleick continually illustrates how Feynman brought this penetrating intuition to bear on some of physics’ most essential questions. His work in quantum electrodynamics earned him a Nobel Prize, an award which he could just as easily have won for his research into superfluidity or the weak interactions in radioactive decay. An insatiable curiosity and a belief in the intelligibility of nature fueled Feynman’s passionate search for truth, which, he held, science could best ascertain.
Feynman’s fascinating life was not all science, however. Scientists and nonscientists alike found him intriguing for varying reasons. Gleick intersperses anecdotes throughout to show Feynman’s playfulness, charm, and roguishness, traits illustrative of his deviation from the stereotype of the dry, one-dimensional man of science.
Ultimately, however, the biography focuses on the science; as...
(The entire section is 326 words.)