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James Gleick
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 29 1992
The best-selling author of Chaos profiles the life and achievements of iconoclastic physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, describing his unique vision of science and his revolutionary legacy. 100,000 first printing. $100,000 ad/promo. Tour.

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From Amazon

If you've read any of Richard Feynman's wonderful autobiographies you may think that a biography of Feynman would be a waste of your time. Wrong! Gleick's Genius is a masterpiece of scientific biography--and an inspiration to anyone in pursuit of their own fulfillment as a person of genius. Deservedly nominated for a National Book Award, underservedly passed over by the committee in the face of tough competition, and very deservedly a book that you must read. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

It would be hard to tell personal stories about the late Nobelist Feynman (1918-1988) better than the subject himself did in What Do You Care What Other People Think? To his credit, Gleick does not try. Rather, he depicts Feynman's "curious character" in its real context: the science he helped develop during physics' most revolutionary era. Fans of Feynman's own bestseller, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! , " won't be disappointed by his colleagues' recollections of his reckless obsession with doing science (a grad-school dorm neighbor once opened Feynman's door to find him rolling on the floor as he worked on a problem); but the anecdotes punctuate an expanded account of Feynman the visceral working scientist, not Feynman the iconoclast. This biography wants to measure both the particle and the wave of 20th-century genius--Feynman's, Julian Schwinger's, Murray Gell-Mann's, and others'--in the quantum era. Gleick seems to have enjoyed the cooperation of Feynman's family plus that of a good many of his colleagues from the Manhattan Project and the Challenger inquiry (in which Feynman played a scene-stealing role), and he steadily levies just enough of the burden of Feynman's genius on the reader so that the physicist remains, in the end, a person and not an icon of science. A genius could not hope for better. Gleick is the author of Chaos: The Making of A New Science.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Genius! Jan. 20 2004
Richard Feynman is certainly one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century,one who belongs to the small group of the chosen few(Einstein,Bohr,Pauli ,among others)and one who fully deserves to be called a genius!His biography by James Gleick is nothing short of excellent:it is very well documented and very well written.For those who want to understand the role played by Feynman in the advancement of modern physics, and especially in the genesis of the theory of Quantum Electrodynamics,this book is a must!It also gives a thorough account of Feynman's life, which makes very good reading ,even if one is not interested in physics...
But a five- hundred- page book will always contain a few paragraphs which are not at the same level as the rest of the book!One such paragraph will be found at page 177,where the author wastes the reader's time in explaining Hans Bethe's mental calculation ability in the "squares-near-fifty trick".Apart from the fact that this sort of ability has nothing to do with genius and is within reach of any intelligent High School student,James Gleick explains it wrongly!He says that"...the difference between two successive squares is always an odd number,the sum of the numbers being squared.That fact,and the fact that 50 is half of 100,gave rise to the squares-near-fifty trick".In fact ,the trick is based on the "remarkable identity" (50+/-a)^2=2500+/-100*a+a^2.Nothing to do with the difference of two successive squares!
Fortunately,the book does not contain many passages like this one!
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This is a fun book, hard to put down, and is comparable to a romance novel or a so-called "chick flick"--with unfortunately about as much depth. If you are a Feynman fan or a Physics fan or someone who is considering Physics as a career--this book is 5 stars. What the author omits one can can figure out,if you already know quite a bit. I dropped out of Physics as I preferred reading about the great Physicists to working through the problems in the Electricity and Magnetism or Quantum Mechanics texts, and did not have the feel for all those waveicles.
Since my brother was for a time a theoretical Physicist I heard much of the Feynman folklore. Gleick captured the folklore quite well. But the power and influence of the famous lectures given by Feynman to Caltech freshman and sophomore Physics students(known simply as Feynman's Lectures)was understated. During the last half of the 60s and through the 70s it would be hard not to find Physics Graduate students at the elite Universities (Chicago,MIT and so on) intensely studying Feynman's lectures as preparation for their PHD comps. This is so well known that the conceitful dream of other introductory text writers such as Samuelson in Economics, is to have the same role in their field.
The real shortcoming of the book is that it is a 90% solution. It would be interesting to have compared him with other Physics theoreticans--as a group. They are quite similar in many ways. You look at the famous and not so famous in that area and they have a set of commonalities. They will have self-taught themselves Mathematical subjects and found those challenges less exciting than understanding the physical world. In fact,that is the rationale of their existence, at least for a time. They all need to be do-it-themselfers.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great, Though a Lot Turns Up Missing Jan. 8 2002
If getting people to turn pages was the only measure of a writer, Gleick would be at the top of his craft; I ripped through this book in 3 days (and likewise found Chaos very compelling). But, alas, there are other considerations and for me, the most curious thing about this book is the degree to which the author sets the table and serves a burning meal then leaves most the courses half eaten.
For instance, you would think from the title, that you were also in for a discourse on the concept and/or practice of genius. Instead, predictable anecdotal information comes along (more often than not reinforcing the cliche rather than an individual experience of genius) and then, when the author decides to take up the topic, he makes a few remarks about the geneology of the concept, tries to talk about Mozart in a way that borders on hamhanded (while it also produced an unfortunate flashback to surely one of the most banal treatises on genius: Amadeus) and then after a few other observations, he moves on. The title seems to promise the cliche, but the wonderful quixotic image that emerges from the long course of Feynman's life is rather the retreat of the concept. As the most likely Einstein of his generation, Feynman ended up making significant contributions, but certainly fell far short of the previous generation's measure of genius: general relativity. Instead whole hordes of people pushed the ball forward little by little into the quantum age and Feynman ironically became one of the ones who defied the belief in a grail that would unlock all the secrets.
The other part that seemed truly neglected was the final scene when Feynman served on the Challenger committee (shortly before his death).
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpeice
This book is quite well done. It is now my favorite book, and I think it wouldn't be a stretch to claim it as the greatest scientific biography ever written. Read more
Published on May 11 2011 by Deaven
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent companion to Feynman's own writing
Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, Gleick
Q: "I read both of Feynman's autobiographies! Why would I need to read a biography? Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2004 by cmpst52
3.0 out of 5 stars mediocre
Gleick's biography of Feynman is certainly palatable for even non-techical readers... however, if you're interested in Feynman as a person, you're far better off reading it in... Read more
Published on June 4 2003 by Ron R Lin
2.0 out of 5 stars Ho-hum...
I read Genius for a college literature course. I thought the book was pretty boring. Some of the personal stories of Richard Feynman were interesting, but there were very few of... Read more
Published on Dec 5 2002 by Chris
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the worst books I've ever seen.
This book is so bad that I didn't make it past the first few pages. Another reviewer here agrees with me that this book gets off to a very bad start immediately when he says,... Read more
Published on Dec 5 2002 by "anthonymartello"
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a very good biography... that the author repeatedly goes for two or three pages without even mentioning Feynman! He shoots off on a tangent and gives us a quick history of someone else, or brings up... Read more
Published on Dec 18 2001 by M. Meier
1.0 out of 5 stars Spend your money on Feynman's own books instead
I almost stopped reading this book after the first few chapters- very dry reading, and the author repeatedly goes for 2-3 pages without even mentioning Feynman, instead going off... Read more
Published on Dec 8 2001 by M. Meier
5.0 out of 5 stars A dead man that heard voices.
The scientists who were building the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos during World War II allowed Richard P. Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2001 by Bruce P. Barten
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive guide
There are many books by and about Feynman. The quality of Gleick's research and writing makes this book more comprehensive than any other biography on Feynman and this book also... Read more
Published on May 20 2001 by Kwong Chan
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Work by J Gleick
I grab this book once I saw it on the book shelf years ago. Partly because I am always fascinated by the personality of RPF. Read more
Published on March 7 2001 by Abraman
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