Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!

Richard Feynman won a Nobel Prize, played a key role in science in the 20th century, and obviously has a great mind. But this collection of anecdotes reveals that despite (maybe because of?) his great mind, he is a little odd. Perhaps a mind as great as his has been filled with great scientific understanding, sharp and analytical thinking, and a deep purpose, to the point that it has no space left for managing social niceties.

These collection of anecdotes are often amusing, always interesting, and sometimes awkward. The romantic relationships of Feynman are described in an oddly chronological and matter-of-fact manner, with only fleeting hints at what he felt (most notably around the passing of his first wife from tuberculosis). It leaves a little hole in the story, in that Feynman becomes, to the reader, just an automaton – a great and huge scientific automaton.

His vocabulary is much better placed to describe ideas than it is to describe feelings. Obviously, I never knew the man – but perhaps, in that way, this collection of stories does give a true window into who the man was. After listening (to the audiobook) version of this book, I feel that I know more about the man from the way that he told he stories, and how he selected his stories, than the stories themselves.

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