GENIUS: LIFE & SCIENCE OF RICH Hardcover – Sep 29 1992
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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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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!
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.Read more ›
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).Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
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 morePublished on May 11 2011 by Deaven
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
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 morePublished on June 4 2003 by Ron R Lin
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 morePublished on Dec 5 2002 by Chris
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 morePublished on Dec 5 2002 by Anthony Martello
...in 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 morePublished on Dec 18 2001 by M. Meier
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 morePublished on Dec 8 2001 by M. Meier
The scientists who were building the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos during World War II allowed Richard P. Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2001 by Bruce P. Barten
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 morePublished on May 20 2001 by Kwong Chan