One of the truly great scientific minds of the latter half of the twentieth century, Richard Feynman was an unconventional physicist, to say the leastOne of the truly great scientific minds of the latter half of the twentieth century, Richard Feynman was an unconventional physicist, to say the least. This book is a collection of his lectures, opinion pieces, personal notes and articles, and is biographical in that it gives a roughly chronological account, in Feynmans own words, of his life. It also attempts to give us more of an idea of the man rather than the scientist. He was an accomplished drummer - he spent some years studying and lecturing in Brazil, learning to play Samba drums while he was there,and even performed in the Rio Carnival with a Samba band. He was a great lover of women, and we are told of how, after the death of his first wife, he would head to Las Vegas and hook up with the showgirls, and how he once used to do quite a lot of work in a strip club near where he lived, even testifying in court on behalf of the strip club when it was threatened with closure. Later in life he learnt how to paint, and became a well regarded artist, with his portrait work being particularly sought after. Whilst there is no doubt that he was an interesting character - he comes off as a charming rogue and maybe even a bit of a cad - it is when he talks about science that Feynman truly comes into his own. A great advocate of good science teaching and a revered lecturer, he turned down an extremely prestigious post at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton because they wouldn't allow him to lecture. He held that teaching kept the mind active between research work, and maintained that the interaction with students often gave him insights into the problems he was working on himself. He was disconcertingly brilliant, often (unwittingly or otherwise) intimidating eminent colleagues with the way he could resolve extremely difficult problems by doing no more than, as Murray Gell-Mann said, employing the methodology of 'You formulate the problem - you think very hard - then you write down the answer'. He had one of those minds that make it very easy to see the difference between an extremely intelligent person and a genius. This book unfortunately is a little light on his scientific work - James Gleicks excellent book Genius is a more comprehensive biography of the man and his work - but it is a very entertaining read, and does provide insight into the man as opposed to the mind....more
5 years ago, Stewart Gilmour was run out of Stonemouth by the Murstons, the local Bad Men, having gravely offended them. Now he's returned for a funer5 years ago, Stewart Gilmour was run out of Stonemouth by the Murstons, the local Bad Men, having gravely offended them. Now he's returned for a funeral. He's cleared it with the Murstons, so theoretically its OK for him to come back for the funeral and head away afterwards, but old feelings resurface again and Stewart finds negotiating his return to the old town a little bit more tricky than he would have liked.
Banks has hit stride again with this novel, his best non-SF effort since Complicity, 20 years ago. He is returning to old familiar themes - death, belonging, identity, escape, the nature of friendship, his love of Scotland, the highly complex interactions of relatively ordinary people in small towns. Anyone who has read the Crow Road or Espedair Street or even The Steep Approach to Garbadale will find very familiar territory here. He draws his main characters exquisitely, and fleshes then out well with backstory, here through the use of flashbacks and 'I remember when..' - again, a technique that he has used before and is very comfortable and skilled with. AS ever, there is a dark undercurrent here - the Murstons are a nasty bunch, but treated as a big noise in the community, their activities condoned by the authorities on the grounds of 'If it wasn't them it'd be some outsiders, better the devil you know etc.', and as is often the case Banks main characters, while intriguing, are fundamentally flawed and can be hard to like. But he nails the mood of the novel precisely, paces it very well - all the action takes place over the course of the three days of the funeral - and whilst there a few superfluous asides and a couple of mcguffins here and there, this is an excellent read....more