Genius by James Gleick
Finished reading on May 21st, 2015
Richard Feynman is a name that you might most likely have heard if you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory or if you’ve taken a course in particle physics. I can make checks in both 🙂
“Genius” is one of several biographies of Feynman, who seems to me as the best example of a misunderstood genius, despite being highly acclaimed and having gotten a Nobel prize in physics.
I picked this book up quite soon after reading his correspondence, and as I’ve read “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman” last year, most of it didn’t seem new, but it was still interesting and it gave a better idea of Richard Feynman as a person, and it was the first time I could actually read about his contributions to physics.
The thing that strikes me the most about Feynman, was the way he worked – not reading the new paper in physics fully, but only until he got an idea of the problem and then trying to solve it himself and spending a lot of time on questions that he never published anything about, although many others would have. That’s just curious. The first explains his great grasp of physics, the second is just a mystery to me, as in my imagination you’d try to publish any significant results. Maybe that’s just it though- he probably didn’t see it as significant enough or as not a big enough contribution?
The book did change my opinion of Feynman in some ways, as previously I had seen him as an ingenious joker, and now I’m not so sure, as it all seems quite tragic.
I did like that you do see quite a lot of his contemporary physicists, so you won’t get the idea that he was the only one working on it, but you see it as everyone contributing something – some more, some less, and find out about their relationships, and you see Murray Gell-Mann, Julian Schwinger and Freeman Dyson appear in the story – it brings Feynman out of vacuum and gives a broader view of everything.
I feel like there’s no reason for me to actually do a short overview of Feynman’s life, as that’s what Wikipedia is for. Rather I’d just say that if you’ve enjoyed stories about Feynman, this biography might be enjoyable, and if you’re studying physics, it’s also quite motivational. I dare you to start reading this and not want to pick up a physics textbook!
Also, I’d really recommend reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman” before this one.