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on April 3, 2003
This Review refers to the paperback edition of Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun with audio CD.
The title of Goodstein's book, Feynman's Lost Lecture, may be a bit misleading in terms of the overall content. The book is, in truth, mainly an explanation of the elliptic patterns performed by the planets, among other things, that an unpublished Feynman lecture originally referred to (although the lecture is included in text and on CD, the lecture is only a fraction of the overall book). Goodstein provides a geometrical means of explaining elliptical patterns that even a non-physicist will find easily comprehensible, especially considering the frequency of companion diagrams. The book also includes a rather unique introduction providing a brief biography of Feynman along with the author's personal experiences related to the well-known physicist. An unexpected, but greatly appreciated, addition is Feynman's original notes regarding his lecture contained in the back of the book.
Feynman's Lost Lecture details how to use geometric proofs to find answers to problems such as the speed of a planet when in motion around the sun and how to prove geometrically that an object is an ellipse. The author properly explains and demonstrates these concepts throughout the book via written and visual examples.
Goodstein presents the topics in such a fashion that the reader can easily try for himself\herself the idea portrayed. This is generally due to a generous selection of diagrams and exemplary situations, which properly convey the ideas that Goodstein presents (although it would probably be much more beneficial if more of the diagrams accompanied Feynman's actual lecture). The main text is also of a form easily understood and more than adequately conveys the topic that the author presents. However, the literary style is slightly lacking - in that it often becomes a bit informal in description and detail.
Overall, the literary shortcomings do not interfere with the author's ability to convey the topic and makes for a rather interesting read. Yet another above-par lecture accompanied by a surprisingly above-par explanation, Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun is more than worth it's price and should be a welcome addition to any reader's (both physicists and non-physicists alike) personal library.
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on July 21, 2002
This book is a labour of love by Judith and David Goodstein for their friend Richard Feynman. I really enjoyed the revelations of the human side of the great physicist, especially the 20 page reminiscene by David Goodstein (a fellow physicist at cal tech) and Feynman's sometimes gruff answers to questions after the lecture. A different view of the human side of Feynman than what you read in "Surely, you're joking". I found the technical side of the book even more rewarding (see next paragraph) but be warned: this is pretty intense geometry and logic - I have a hard time imagining anyone without at least a couple years of post secondary math or physics or engineering following all the arguments.
But if you have the background and patience, it's some pretty cool stuff. Like many folks, I learned planetary dynamics using calculus, not geometry, and so this was my first exposure to the elegant relationship between velocity diagrams and orbits. While Feynman's lecture is somewhat unorganized and not entirely clear, the book does a great job filling in the blanks. There are certainly some rough spots (way too much time on the initial simple properties of ellipses, the argument connecting Kepler's third law to the law of gravitation is not clear, and more) but anyone with sufficient background willing to invest a few hours will be able to get past these minor problems. I kind of like how the pace accelerates to a ridiculous level by the end, leaving you to pretty much work out all the hard details of Rutherford's law of scattering for yourself.
Listen to the lecture, scratch your head wondering "what the heck was that", then read the book and study the arguments, then listen again and feel enlightened.
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on January 5, 2001
This book/CD combo is a great historical presentation of the physics of Galileo and Newton's time. David and Judith Goodstein use fascinating historical notes, reminiscent of 'The Mechanical Universe', to prepare the reader for the Feynman lecture.
The lecture itself deals with Newton's geometric proofs of orbital motions of the planets written in the 'Principia'. This geometrical way of presenting the concepts is HARD for the contemporary reader who is used to calculus based analysis of the problem. However, thanks to D. and J. Goodstein's efforts the reader is by then well prepared for the onslaught of congruent triangles. Of particular interest during the lecture is Feynman's eventual departure from Newton's work since even he 'couldn't follow Newton's argument due to its use of obscure conic section properties' which were quite in vogue in the 17th century.
This book/CD combo is easily more advanced than Feynman's 'The Character of Physical Law' and so not recommended for the average non-technical reader. Lastly, be advised that the reader is strongly advised in the book to read the preparation for the lecture prior to listening to the lecture, else the reader will be thoroughly confused.
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on January 22, 2000
This lecture was *not* part of the course that became the great "Feyman Lectures" textbooks. It was given the next year as a filler to another class. Feyman derived this geometric proof of eliptical orbits based on scattering work by Fano, but the postscript says the same proof goes back to Hamilton. It's of some interest to hear Feynman answering students questions at the end. But based on their questions it's clear he didn't do a great job even if you could see the blackboard. So, really, you should only buy this book if you want to learn the proof as presented by the authors. If you can get ahold of his Messinger lectures they're much more well organized and more entertaining, and cover the basics of planetary motion (equal areas/time, and the period/radius relationship) but not the orbits being eliptical. There was almost no humor in this lecture. I was disappointed.
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on February 17, 2002
Feynman could explain complex subjects in laymen's terms. He didn't need anything higher than high school geometry math to explain most of his subjects. About the same math that was around back in Newton's time.
A lot of the diagrams in the book jump from one section of the subject to another, but they are brought back together eventually. If you get lost in 1 of the 20 (or more) diagrams within one section of the whole lecture you may not totaly understand when the conclusion is reached. It helped to have the book in front of me - where I could go back and re-read from the part that I figure I got lost.
Listening to the CD and reading along (in Chapter 4) was a bit tricky. After a few pauses/rewind/replay I caught on and can say I understand planet orbits.
A good book to have if you are a fan of R. Feynman.
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on March 12, 2000
When I saw this book in the book store I thought, "What a great idea! A simple geometric explanation of planetary orbits". Then I read the book's supposed proof of why the lines from the focus points of an elllipse to a boundary point make equal angles with the tangent line. The argument was both long-winded and completely invalid! By way of comparison check the elegant proof given at the beginning of *Geometry and the Imagination* by Hilbert and Cohen-Vossen. I can't imagine that Feynman was responsible for this. The only reasonable conclusion is that the authors of this book don't know what they are talking about.
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on May 12, 2001
Not only did Feynman come up with his own geometric proof that the motion of the planets is eliptical, he presents it with a simple to understand step by step demonstration.
Feynman's genious is obvious, but the best part of the CD is the Q-A portion at the end. Truly a genious, truly a teacher. A wonderful book/cd combination.
For those with a more technical background, I recommend listening to the cd several times to see if you can follow, then go to the book. The proof will leap off the pages.
Even for those without a technical background, Feynman is a joy to listen to.
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on September 11, 2003
The book first walks you through the works of Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe and Kepler. Then it gives a brief account of Feynman's life and his work. Then, through numerous diagrams, the authors clearly explain Feynman's ingenious proof of the law of ellipses. Finally, the book presents Feynman's lecture "The Motion of Planets Around the Sun".
It is amazing how Feynman, starting on the lines of Newton, and then not being able to follow Newton's reasoning, devised a different but elegant proof of the law of ellipses.
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on October 23, 1996
The heart and soul of this book is a proof of Keplars laws. There are really *three* proofs: Isaac Newton's, Richard Feynmans, and the authors distillation of them. It's hard to imagine a mathematical proof making a fascinating science book, but this one does. Not only did I get to the end of the book understanding the proof (which I found astonishing), but the characters of Feynman, Newton, and Keplar came out. I gained a much deeper understanding of the most fundamental scientific revolution of the age
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on August 31, 1998
This is a facinating book and audio CD package. I was captivated by the first section of the book, wherein Dr. Goodstein relates his-own work on following Professor Feynman's lecture material. The second section of the book is a transcription of the lecture, and it was interesting to follow the text while listening to the Professor's familiar New York accent on the companion CD(complete with his humor). It was easy to see why he was so popular a lecturer.
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