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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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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent companion to Feynman's own writing Jan. 20 2004
By cmpst52
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?"
A: "Because it's awesome."
Gleick, firstly, goes far deeper into Feynman's life than Feynman did. Feynman didn't consider his books to be autobiographies; they were "Adventures of a curious character." They were a few hilarious events picked from his long, full life.
Gleick's book covers many of the hilarious aspects, but also covers the painful and formative aspects. Also curiously missing from Feynman's books were his science. Feynman wrote about his adventures, Gleick covered the adventures, the disasters, and the science.
Brilliant, enthralling reading. Highly recommending to anyone who enjoyed Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Which is, in turn, recommended to anyone who likes funny stories. It reads fast, BTW.)
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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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3.0 out of 5 stars mediocre June 4 2003
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 Feynman's words: "Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman"... not only was that book much funnier and an immense joy to read, but you get a much better feel for a lot of the anecdotes that are relayed again in Gleick's book.
If you're interested in learning about the history of QED and Feynman's hand in its development, this book is a nice teaser, but it really doesn't go into much depth. It focuses too much on the shallow rivalries between the physicists of that time, without really making clear what the developments were or how they were developed.
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By A Customer
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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2.0 out of 5 stars Ho-hum... Dec 6 2002
By Chris
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 them compaired to the remainder of the book. Other parts were intensely boring. Most of the book contained theories of physics. A pretty silly concept considering this is a biography!
Overall I'd say this book was rather pointless. If you're a physicist or fan of physics (I prefer biology, myself) go ahead and read it. Otherwise, I would not recommend this book.
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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
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"
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, Though a Lot Turns Up Missing
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... Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2002 by R. Williams
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 8 2001 by Abraman
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