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The Character of Physical Law

4.27  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,725 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
In the Messenger Lectures, originally delivered at Cornell University & recorded for TV by the BBC, Feynman offers an overview of selected physical laws & gathers their common features into one broad principle of invariance. He maintains at the outset that the importance of a physical law isn't "how clever we are to have found it out, clever nature is to ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published November 8th 1994 by Modern Library (first published 1964)
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Jun 01, 2013 Manny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want to understand what physics is really about
As I progressed through this excellent little book, I began to feel that the style was somehow familiar from another genre. Mozart? Perhaps e.e. cummings? But my subconscious, while granting that I wasn't totally off-base, informed me that it had a chess analogy in mind.

I had never thought about it before, but I am suddenly rather taken with the idea of comparing great physics writers with great chess players. Penrose reminds me of Tal, trusting his astonishing visual intuition to steer him thr
Feb 11, 2016 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic little book for which we have to thank the BBC: They decided to film these lectures and subsequently publish transcripts of them, at a time before Feynman had turned into a one-man industry and every one of Feynman`s students`first-draft lecture notes became as diamond dust.

The title tells one enough about the contents; if you have any interest in the topic you should read this book. It is almost but not completely non-mathematical. If you can cope with the algebra contained
Oct 27, 2012 brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
all the great early-20th century physicists came up with this l. ron hubbardish conceit to invent a pornucopia of whackadoo sci-fi theories and sell 'em to the public as hard 'reality'… the solvay conference - where they came up with the first round of bullshit - was a blast! they eliminated absolute time, described light as particle & wave, defined space as 'curved', played with cats which were simultaneously dead and alive, came up with a slew of random constants, and - just as Area 51 inf ...more
Jun 19, 2015 Lotz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is impossible, by the way, by picking one of anything to pick one that is not atypical in some sense. That is the wonder of the world.

I would probably be giving this little book five stars if I wasn't already familiar with much of it from reading Feynman's Six Easy Pieces and Six Not-So-Easy Pieces. There's a good deal of overlap in the material, and Feynman even uses several of the same examples and analogies. It seems he was so often explaining these things that he developed a method. I m
Oct 08, 2014 Zanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stem, usa
It is commonplace to praise Feynman for describing fiendishly difficult concepts in friendly vernacular and intuitive analogies, for example, his wet towels metaphor for the second law of thermodynamics communicates its content, import, and the sad desperation physicists have felt about it unforgettably. But what matters as much is that he is never sloppy, he never allows an analogy to carry away substance or overstep its explanatory limits. I have read other accounts of the double-slit experime ...more
Chris Wilson
May 13, 2012 Chris Wilson rated it it was amazing
I once had a friend that I was tutoring in physics explain to me that this was her intro physics "textbook". Amazingly, though I was studying physics, I hadn't really been introduced to Richard Feynman in any real way. That Saturday, I sat down with a cup of coffee in my small rooming house kitchen and started reading this book. Feynman is a magician of explanation. On every page I read, Feynman took some concept that I was familiar with and tugged it apart, then with a sly turn deftly snapped i ...more
Ami Iida
Sep 25, 2015 Ami Iida rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
the author explained "Foundation of quantum mechanics and Physics".
He treated many interesting physics and quantum mechanics examples.
I have a lot of harvest from the book. (^ ^)V
Janet Pittman
Aug 19, 2016 Janet Pittman rated it really liked it
My son, Ryan, recommended this book since I wanted to learn more about Physics, and Richard Feynman per: Ryan is "great at explaining terms that everyone can understand". The content is seven lectures delivered at Cornell University in 1964, and I must admit that some of the material went in one eyeball and out the other despite Mr. Feynman's great diagrams and simplified explanations. The concepts of gravitation, conservation, symmetry, probability, uncertainty, and more are reviewed with credi ...more
Kerem Cankocak
Mar 30, 2016 Kerem Cankocak rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Profesör R. Feynman sadece fizik yasalarının bugünkü kavranışına yaptığı katkılarla değil, fiziği fizikçi olmayanlar için de çekici kılma yeteneğiyle tanınır. Elinizdeki kitap, Feynman'ın davetli olarak geldiği Amerika Birleşik Devletleri'nin Cornell Üniversitesi'nde verdiği bir dizi konferansı kapsamaktadır. Feynman fiziğin geniş evrenini, bir Marslı'yla yapılan hayalî telefon konuşması benzeri örnekler çeşitliliği içerisinde bizlere tanıtmaktadır.

“..Olağanüstü.. bu kitapta büyük bir fizikçinin
Brian Clegg
This was a late discovery for me amongst Richard Feynman's books, and it's something of an oddity. Like all the books with his name on, this wasn't a case of Feynman sitting down to write a book; he never wrote a single book - in this case it's a transcription of a set of lectures Feynman gave at Cornell University which were broadcast in the UK by the BBC.

What the great physicist sets out to do is to explore the nature of physical laws. Where this works best (and he would probably have hated th
Mohamed al-Jamri
Feb 17, 2016 Mohamed al-Jamri rated it really liked it
This is a short and easy to understand book. It is beneficial mostly to those new to popular science books. Feynman talks about the following topics: What are the laws of nature and how are they discovered. The story of the Law of Gravity up to Einstein, and that of the law of conservation of energy. The uncertainty and universality of the laws of nature. The flow of time, order and disorder (entropy). Levels of complexity. Quantum mechanics and uncertainty principle. And falsifiability.
Dec 18, 2007 David rated it it was amazing
Feynman's lectures make good reading. That alone is somewhat unusual, since many lectures do not survive well when they are simply transcribed. The other unusual thing about Feynman's lecture style is that he makes what he's talking about clear and accessible without an excess of jargon. His approach is sometimes quirky, but in his lectures you can see how he thinks about that approach. In these lectures, there's a balance between musings about physics and musings about how people think (about p ...more
Dec 08, 2008 Tom rated it really liked it
I procrastinated reading this because I thought the level of physics might be too difficult. It is actually extremely accessible and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the way the universe works and the relationship between mathematics and physics. Since the chapters are transcribed lectures, there are a few points in the book at which complex mathematics is glossed over or presented as an understood explanation. Also, as lectures, the diagrams and illustrations are sparse, which makes the ...more
Abdulrahman Kauther
Feb 01, 2016 Abdulrahman Kauther rated it it was amazing
For a long time, I was against the idea of having a favorite book; I thought it would be like picking a favorite child. But this book completely shattered this mindset.

If you are not a physicist, this book will be a very easy and simple way for you to understand what physics is, and how we study it. On the other hand, if you are a physicist, this book will provide you with an extremely beautiful and concise way to look at the world and think about the major concepts of physics.

This is, rightfull
Robert Vlach
Nov 01, 2014 Robert Vlach rated it liked it
Představte si, že pořádáte akci, na kterou pozvete pár cool řečníků, aby představili své nejlepší knihy o inovacích. Do toho přijde Petr Koubský a jako trumf vytasí ke všeobecnému zděšení Feynmanovu 50 let starou klasiku O povaze přírodních zákonů. Aspoň takhle jsem tu historku slyšel… Wow! — The Character of Physical Law je knižní kompilace Feynmanových přednášek z roku 1964, v nichž do té doby nevídaným způsobem vystihl podstatu vědecké metody v celé její šíři a složitosti. Pro mnoho vědců nás ...more
Dec 05, 2014 Muthu rated it liked it
The first remarkable feat of this collection of Feyman's lectures is, he has provided a treatment of the classical laws for people with minimal mathematical background. He would talk about an analogy that you are familiar with and then extend that on to a more general principle. For instance through the double slit experiment which we learned in high school, he explains the dual nature of light, which to me was the simplest explanation of Heisenberg's uncertainty. (But who am I kidding, That was ...more
Vishwanath Saragadam
Aug 21, 2015 Vishwanath Saragadam rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
"Why don't you try 10:20:30 combination?" is not science. "Hmm, let me see if 10:20:30 is a combination. If not, I can definitely know that so and so is correct" is a systematic way of dealing with something. Feynman in his yet another incredible book, has gone through how physical laws are formulated, tested, and the best part, corrected over time. Through very simple examples of gravity, double split experiment and so on, Feynman has taught a lot of nuances in science.

At no point does Feynman
Mar 30, 2010 Sean rated it it was amazing
Book was great but listen to the guy's lectures and you get a feel for what it must have been like to learn from him.
Matthew Plummer
Aug 14, 2014 Matthew Plummer rated it really liked it
An extremely interesting and informative look at a variety of different physical laws and their surrounding concepts. At times, for a layman such as me, I found it tricky to follow but Feynman, while losing me intellectually still held my interest, usually by the end of a lecture I had a good general understanding which is all that I ask of a book like this. His style is nice and clean, not cluttered with unnecessary jargon and often he makes the complicated seem simple, especially through his d ...more
Mark Love
Dec 18, 2014 Mark Love rated it it was amazing
An incredible book by an incredible mind. Feynman is one of those brilliant scientists who is often namechecked by of whom I knew little about, and so I picked this up when I saw it in a charity shop. Although it was first published in 1965 the theoretical physics and maths he ponders is timeless.

His down to earth style in exploring questions such as "what is gravity" and why mathematical formulae that can describe, but not explain it, is exhilarating, as are passages on the nature of time and q
Apr 30, 2014 David rated it liked it
I "read" this as an audiobook, and the various charts and tables weren't immediately available to me, so there were a few challenges. Based on my background in science, I could follow, but it took more work. I found the discussion of the philosophy the most interesting. This book is almost 50 years old, and so much has happened in physics. However, this look for a renowned physicist at how you get there, is what makes this book still worth reading. Feynman is an interesting guy, if you haven't r ...more
Scott Cox
Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist and winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics, gave a series of talks called the “Messenger Lectures” at Cornell University. These lectures were recorded by the BBC and subsequently edited to form the basis of this work. Topics included the law of gravitation (time and space), the great conservation principles (energy, charge, angular momentum, etc.), symmetry of physical laws, and quantum mechanics. I found the chapter on quantum mechanics, specifically F ...more
Jan 20, 2011 Catherine rated it liked it
A short and sweet collection of lectures Feynman gave at Cornell in the sixties, this is a great read for anyone who's never read Feynman before. He clearly loves teaching and talking about physics; he is adept at explaining both the mathematical details and laws as well as the implications of these laws (if any) on our daily experience. He has a manner of looking at physical laws from different points of view, which makes the reader's engagement with them quite different; for example, he descri ...more
Jun 10, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it
An interesting insight into the way one of the more brilliant minds of the 20th century regarded the scientific process. It's the first book I've read that made the theory of relativity clear to me, which reflects on its main strength and weakness: this book is not for scientists. If you're looking for an in-depth explanation of any phenomena here, you're barking up the wrong tree. The focus is on how we arrive at the physical laws and how the laws interact to form the universe we know, not appl ...more
Mar 25, 2008 LB rated it did not like it
Shelves: terrible
I have only just started--or restarted--this book and my problem is the same that I had with Hawking. Statements like this (p. 19-20) "As a matter of fact Newton was able to demonstrate that the statement that equal areas are swept in equal times was a direct consequence of the simple idea that all the changes in velocity are directed exactly towards the sun, even in the elliptical case..."

What in the hell does that mean? Velocity is direction + speed, right? So, I understand that a change in di
Folkert Wierda
Jul 02, 2016 Folkert Wierda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Feynman is considered divine by many. I am not one of those. He has an interesting way of writing, but in his urge to be different sometimes misses the needed connection with the topic.

This book is clearly written for readers without scientific background. Interesting is the topics he chooses for his "lectures" as being the main mega-themes in physics. I would like to read the same lectures adjusted for an audience with undergraduate science and math background.

Still a clear recommended read for
Apr 09, 2016 Jesse rated it liked it
I suspect my take on this is a bit different from most, given my physics background. Still, Feynman is a master, and the book (or original lecture series) does a good job of covering a lot of interesting ground. I'm not sure I learned much, but there were some new ways of looking at old ideas that were quite interesting.

I think I may not have gotten as much rom this book as I read it with a reasonable amount of time between chapters (a couple of chapters a weekend). Reading it more closely space
Oct 10, 2015 Haythem rated it it was amazing
The only one that makes you smile with every idea he proposes to explain some scientific concept. Richard Feynman makes things look so unusual, simple and beautiful. The analogies he makes are brilliant and that mix of humble statements about how nature is complicated so that he can't understand it. On the other hand, he can't hide his amusement about how nature is beautiful when understood in the light of physical laws.
Soh Kam Yung
Nov 10, 2011 Soh Kam Yung rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, reference
A good collection of lectures given by Feynman on the character of science and the search for the laws of physics. One can only wish to be present at the actual lectures to catch a glimpse of the actual Feynman behind the words.

The book acts as a good introduction into what makes up the laws of physics and what physicists actually do to discover them. Many might be shocked to discover that instead of methodical and step-by-step research, laws may be 'guessed' via intuition but Feynman emphasises
Jan 10, 2016 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is to classical physics and engineering what A Brief History of Time is to modern physics. It's a great overview of sorts and explains complex ideas in easy terms and scenarios. Feynman was an amazing teacher, and it shows in this book (which was compiled from a series of lectures).
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Richard Phillips Feynman was an American physicist known for the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as work in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Pr ...more
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“Mathematics is a language plus reasoning; it is like a language plus logic. Mathematics is a tool for reasoning.” 57 likes
“... it is impossible to explain honestly the beauties of the laws of nature in a way that people can feel, without their having some deep understanding of mathematics. I am sorry, but this seems to be the case.” 19 likes
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