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The Character of Physical Law

4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  3,227 ratings  ·  85 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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Robert Vlach
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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 1 of 5 stars
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
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.
Kam-Yung Soh
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
Pedro Vasconcelos
Feynman at his best, on the nature of science and the beauty of reality. In making sense of the knowledge we have available today and of the universe itself, it is extremely important to understand what science is and is not; to understand the difference between reality and the models we create to describe it; to understand the processes used to create them and their limitations. Beautiful book by a beautiful character.
James Watson
It is impossible for me to give a fair review on this book after having read "Six Easy Pieces" and "Six Not So Easy Pieces" by the same author. "The Character of Physical Law" shares much of its material with those books, though in lesser detail.
Timothy Nichols
I thought I had exhausted the Feynman corpus (that I can read, anyway), and then I discovered this little gem in a used bookstore in downtown Denver. Made up of the seven talks delivered as the Messenger lectures at Cornell in 1964, this book is classic Feynman: engaging, clear, and funny. It's been a few years, and I imagine some of the examples may be a little dated, but I had a blast reading through it, and I recommend it highly.
This is a good second read if you picked up Five Easy Pieces.

The title is carefully chosen: Feynman gives us a guide through physics and points out the general character of the laws we've discovered. How does the universe act, generally? Why would that be?

With reference to concrete discoveries we get to ask the meta questions. It turns out that beside the predictable things in the universe, there are fantastic, incomprensible weirdnesses, things that have no reason to work.

One such quote: "I fin
Charles Frode
Just hold this book, peruse it, read something here and there. It is dense, but you will enjoy the clarity and challenge or reading one of the most profound physicists ever.
Really a sui generis overview of gravitational theory, without the math. It's readable for the patient and interested layman.
Beautiful. A clear overview of how we know what we know. This quickly became one of my favorite science books.
Dave Collins
Pretty good, brief explanation of the the fundamental physical laws for the layman.
Funny and eccentric.
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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.” 52 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.” 17 likes
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