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on June 16, 2004
The follow-up to the successful, "Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman" this book offers four pretty distinct parts.
First section describes how his father taught him to think about the world and his father's ambition to make young Richard a scientist. The end of the book is Feyman's case for the importance of science. In between we get the sad, but sweet story of his first wife and the utterly compelling story of his time on the committee investigating the challenger explosion. It was my favorite part of the book.
The description of how government committees decide facts and make recommendations was eye opening. It was the best description of how these things work that I've ever read. Feynman was constantly up against a committee chairman that wanted to keep everyone in a room asking questions of experts. Feynman didn't like that setup. He wanted to travel out to NASA and talk to engineers, so he did.
Going to Huston and Canaveral, Feynman learned something about the nature of NASA that probably goes for any big organization. He found that NASA was a unified force when their goal was putting a man of the moon. Information was shared freely and appreciated at every level. Once that goal was met NASA became compartmentalized.
Leaders at the top spent their time reassuring Congress that NASA would achieve their goals with low costs and high safety. Engineers at the bottom realized that this wasn't entirely possible. The middle managers didn't want to hear the challenges because they would be forced to report it to the top bosses who didn't want to hear it. It was much easier for top bosses to paint a rosy picture to Congress if they were unaware of the actual challenges of making it work. The end result was that top bosses said that the likelihood of a mission death was 1-100,000 while engineers on the ground felt that the likelihood was more like 1-300.
Feynman concludes that maybe the shuttle program was a bad idea. It could never live up to the ambitious projections of the leaders and the American public was being lied to. NASA should be honest with the American people, Feynman thought, then Congress and voters can decide if they are getting enough for their money. It was a surprisingly thing to hear from an advocate of science and discovery. But Feynam reckoned that the amount of science and discovery has been little compared to the cost. He complained years after the first shuttle launch he still hadn't read any significant experiments in scientific journals.
In all, I liked this book a little better than "Surely You're Joking." It was a little more thought provoking than those fun tales.
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on December 12, 2002
This book is the follow-up to Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character and I recommend that it should be read only after reading that volume.
The book is organized as a series of loosely related chapters that illustrate Feynman's unique perspective and his ways of interacting with the world. It is less personal than the preceding book in that some of the chapters are more about science-related topics and less about Feynman. Some of the chapters fill in details that were introduced in "Surely You're Joking" while others cover new topics. His description of the government sponsored independent commission that investigated the space shuttle Challenger explosion is revelatory both for its insight into the process and workings of such commissions (and Feynman's frustrations with them) and for his description of his own style of investigatory technique which we all can apply.
The reader does not have to be a scientist, engineer, or a skeptic to appreciate this book and I recommend it as informative, amusing and well worth reading.
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on August 8, 2002
Not a bad book, but not quite five star.
The first chapter "The Making of a Scientist" is from the
Horizon[BBC]/Nova[PBS] documentary The Pleasure of Finding Things
Out. I very much enjoyed watching Chris Sykes documentary, and
he went on to write the book No Ordinary Genius (also another
Sykes documentary about Feynman). I mention all this because
the book, and chapter is unable to convey Feynman's Brooklyn
accent (that really adds).
Feynman hated writing, and most of this text was transcribed and
edited, so it has that feel. Some people will like that, and
as Sykes notes: others won't (poor English). The best way to
understand Feynman is to read his three volumes, and that's not
easy (and they are written in this same style with hard hard).
The Challenger Chapter is very important and stands on its own
merits. Enough said about that.
"For a successful technology,
reality must take precedence over public relations,
for Nature cannot be fooled."
Appendix F, Personal Observations on the Reliability of the Shuttle
-- R. P. Feynman
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on May 23, 2001
A sort of sequel to "Surely You're Joking...," this book has fewer laughs but still kept me fascinated by the mind of Richard Feynman. "Surely You're Joking..." was filled with short humorous anecdotes, not necessarily related, coming together as a sketchy autobiography. "What Do You Care..." is a little different in form and has two main themes: Feynman's relationship with Arlene, his first wife, and his challenges with the Challenger space shuttle investigation.
In this book, as opposed to "Surely You're Joking..." we get stories that we can follow for a longer time, and so there is a little more depth to them. Arlene's character is described more fully here, so we can understand their relationship better, and that was interesting. But I was more drawn to the Challenger story, which consists of his difficulties in finding information on the causes of the explosion while having to deal with bureaucracy and the unscientific minds of management. Sure, there must be tons of biases in here (he's a very opinionated guy), but Feynman's adventures are nonetheless filled with wonderful insights about life and science. And the last chapter, "The Value of Science" deals with things that many have forgotten or have never learned about science, doubt, and integrity.
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on May 15, 2000
After wanting to read RF for a long time, I finally got a book. This was the first Feynman book I read. It has two parts, the first is mostly about Feynman's first wife Arlene and his friends when he was a young man. The second tells us how Feynman investigated the Challenger explosion. The book is not technical, the second part is a bit more detailed and might tell you more about rocket engines that you would like to know, but the whole book is very interesting. I particulary enjoyed the first part, how Feynman decided to still marry Arlene not matter what everyone else was telling him, and how special their relationship was. Feynman is a brillian man, yet funny and modest, he even shares some of his embarassing moments. I became a fan and am now going for more Feynman books. A first part for your heart, and a second part for your brain. Some were just random thoughts, with no order at all, and it was a bit confusing sometimes for someone who didn't know Feynman's life, but still, this was a delicious book and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading about the people who make brilliant science... and still have a sense of humor. :)
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on May 26, 2004
This book is the follow on to the book "Surely you must be joking, Mr. Feynman". In the first book there was a time line that progressed from youth to Professor at Caltech. This book is much different in that 45% of the book describes his pre- 1986 life and 55% describes his involvement in the Challenger shuttle accident investigation. This investigation was a mere 2 years of his life (and the final 2 years as well). The same brilliant character shines through in both parts of this book. There are many interesting vignettes of this iconoclast that are not in the first book. The most interesting part is the description of his relationship with his first wife Arlene who succumbed to TB while he was still a young man. He really had a great heart for those close to him. He didn't suffer fools willingly and often was abrupt to the point of rudeness. More interesting observations are available at feynmanonline^com. Detailed there is a more balanced view of the man and his foibles.
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on February 3, 2003
Dr. Feynman figured out what went wrong with the 1986 space shuttle crash...he seemed to be the only one on the investigatory commission who was an innovative and agressive investigator. It will be interesting to see if inquiries into the latest disaster with the Columbia shuttle reveal the same weaknesses in NASA communication between the head (money-raising, grandstanding) honchos and the engineers who had hands- on knowledge of the shuttle. The technological aspect is obviously pertinent but the group dynamics of the commission and the organization they were scrutinizing is the real story.
In addition to the Challenger portion of the book, there are delightful chapters on the author's childhood relationship to his father and to his first wife, both of them original and irreverent characters, as, apparently, was Feynman.
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on November 24, 1999
Feynman's at it again in this sometimes-funny, sometimes-sad sequel to "Surely you're joking." Here, we meet his beloved first wife Arline, who died while Feynman was working on the bomb at Los Alamos. Later we follow Feynman to Washington, as he shines his piercing intellect through the NASA smokescreen surrounding the Challanger disaster. In between we're treated to Feynman's exasperated attempts to learn Japanese, and other adventures of this most curious character. While far from a balanced look at Feynman's life (James Gleick's "Genius" is the seminal work; it's sometimes hard to overlook author Ralph Leighton's unabashed hero worship), this book will be a delight to Feynmanauts.
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on June 5, 2003
I just can't get enough of this guy !
Still in the spirit of the first book 'Surely you're joking', but a slightly more serious follow up with some repetitions. Here the reader sees Feynmann dealing with the love of his life- his first wife Arline, the Nobel prize and much later the investigation into the Challenger tragedy. This time the hero is better developed and we get to see a more human side of Mr Feynmann in addition to the curious character. Given that he is no longer with us, this book will be treasured as much as the first. Readers unfamilar with the first book will still be able to enjoy the adventures of this remarkable scientist.
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on April 22, 2001
I read this book for a high school physics class. I really ended up reading it because it was ine of the few books that my dad had in his personal library. (I didn't feel like going OUT and getting a book) It actually turned out to be an interesting book. It had lots of funny parts, along with some informative sections about science "things". I found it to be a good book, not as good as something that I would read for leasuire, but it's a book that I'm glad I read.
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