Katie's Reviews > What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character

What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P. Feynman
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Oct 02, 10

bookshelves: biography-autobiography
Read in September, 2010

Why should you read this book? Because Richard P. Feynman won a Nobel Prize in physics and you haven’t, kiddo, that’s why. Ok, now we’ve got that out of the way and we can talk about Feynman’s ego, which will take the rest of this space, and possibly the rest of Goodreads’ bandwidth.

Actually, I really enjoyed Feynman’s memoir. The first part recalls his education as a scientist, mostly recalling his father, his first wife, and his school friends. This is highly recommended for anyone with the responsibility for educating a child (say, parents). The second part is about his involvement in the Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger space shuttle disaster, and will be enjoyed by those who like stories about supersmart detectives. Did I mention that Feynman thinks a lot of himself?

I most appreciate the insights into how a scientist thinks. Most of his stories illustrate how a sort of observational naiveté—operating empirically, without theories—leads him to a right answer, or at any rate an answer that is more right than anyone else’s answer. (Sometimes it leads him into a goofy situation.) One of the points Feynman makes is that scientists are comfortable not knowing the answers. Case in point: Feynman’s father, a uniform salesman, who taught him to observe nature and speculate on why balls rolled in the direction they did, and why birds pecked at their feathers. The elder Feynman made up a lot of explanations, apparently, but he got the essentials right. “No pressure, just lovely, interesting discussions.”

On the Rogers Commission, Feynman often comes off looking like Columbo, disheveled, stumbling into places he’s not meant to be, going gosh-I’m-sorry-but-as-long-as-I’m-here-would-you-mind-answering-a-few-questions, and so he finds the vital clues while everybody else farts around holding meetings. Feynman frankly admits that this is what he was doing. This is the same sort of naiveté that he preserved throughout his career, that got him everywhere in science but also made him a bit of a bull in a china shop socially, apparently, at times.

Late in the story, we learn that Feynman was given a vital clue by his friend General Kutyna, who received it from an astronaut friend of his. The General knew it was important, but he had to protect the astronaut’s career, so he passed it along to the innocent professor who would get excited about it. And so we learn something, not about science, but about management.

I really enjoyed the long chapter about Feynman’s first marriage. I can’t give much away without a spoiler alert, so you’ll have to read the book. Sounds like Arlene put him in his place a good deal, though.

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