Caris's Reviews > Feynman

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani
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Sep 11, 11

bookshelves: 2011, graphic-novels, young-adult
Read from September 09 to 10, 2011, read count: 1

I firmly believe that the majority of the teachers, administrators, nurses, janitors, and clerical staff at my high school were in on a huge joke at my expense. How else does one explain the poor advising, the lack of college preparation, and the blatantly untrue facts I that were imparted unto me on a daily basis. If there was no joke, I am very sad in a Kurt Vonnegut sort of way, for at least there would have been something funny to look back at.

“Ha!” I’d say, “Perhaps I emerged from high school with the knowledge base of a freshly hatched sparrow with encephalitis, but at least someone had a laugh.”

As it turns out (of so I believe), there was no joke. Not an intentional one, anyway. I guess it was more Vonnegut than I ever gave it credit for until now. Huh. Whatevs. What I’m trying to say is that my teachers were fucktards, the advice I received from student advisors was fucktarded, and the experience of attending school there was fucktarding to an extreme.

It all started when I was in eighth grade. Advisors came into my science class as the year was drawing to a close in order to help the ignorant masses of my middle school determine what class to take. They recommended that everyone in my class take a course called “Intro to Science.” It was all well and fine in my mind; we were all in the same class now, so it made sense that we’d take the same class next year, right?

You can imagine my surprise when on the first day of “Intro to Science” I am confronted by the cast of Dangerous Minds or, for those of you with a more sophisticated frame of reference Class Act. I’m talking the class Kid shows up to. It was awful. The students who weren’t drooling onto the tabletops were setting fire to the chalkboards. Did you even know chalkboards could burn? Now you do. You can put that one in the bank. At some point, the majority of the kids in my eighth grade class had advisors who steered them in the direction of the higher level courses (biology, chemistry) that would put them on the path to a college education. Me? I was learning to keep my crayon marks inside of the lines on my oxygen molecule coloring sheet and learning the scientific method as it was written for kindergarteners in 1952.

They did this to me a couple of times. With both math and science. You’d think with the way they tried to derail my math and science education that I was a girl! After “Intro to Science” I finally made it to biology, but then they redirected me to Earth Science (I had yet to learn the phrase “Rocks for Jocks”), which was another step in the wrong direction. In math, they had me take trigonometry, rather than going with the algebra-centric curriculum that would be helpful to me later in college, but I digress. So there are four years of high school, right? First year, I took Science for Burgeoning Fucktards, second I took Biology, and third I took Rocks for Jocks. Since I’m only working with a passing knowledge of how to calculate right angles, I think that only comes to three. And, if my subtraction skills are as good as my addition, that leaves one. Four take away three is one.

I was an angry young man by the time I hit my senior year. I had planned on going to college, but that goddamned school had all but derailed those plans. Why would a fine institution like ASU accept someone with such a shoddy science background? I decided to make up for it. Big time.

My advisor was surprised when I said that I wanted to take Physics.

“But you don’t have the necessary prerequisites!” she exclaimed, sparking up her crack pipe.

But, using the skills I’d gleaned from a shitton of introductory level classes, I was able to persuade her. And, because she was more interested in lighting up than she was invested in the argument, I got to take physics.

Physics was, by far, the best science class I’d ever taken. I was learning the formulas behind every day things. For example, we covered the shape of sound waves (I was in a punk rock band at the time, and I used those things!) and inertia and shit (I regularly moved). I even got the chance to snap a classmate (who happened to be my best friend) in the chest with a thirty foot long spring! This, however, is not the part of the story where everything ends well.

For the most part, physics didn’t make any sense. I understood that things happened in the universe and that physics was supposed to explain why those events took place. And I understood that all of that shit could be expressed mathematically. But I never really understood. It was one thing to use math equations to get a satisfactory score on a test, but another entirely to understand why light happens.

When I picked up this book, I was skeptical. It looked boring as all fuck (as far as a graphic novel is concerned), but the cover really jumped out at me. I took it home and immediately became engrossed. It was all I wanted to read. If you can believe it, I didn’t know who the fuck Richard Feynman was. I knew Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project (mostly from comic book movies), but this guy, this Nobel Prize winning guy, I had never heard of. How, I ask, could I have taken any kind of physics course and not have heard his name? Fuck you, Mr. Beatty!

This weekend, I learned of the dizzying effects that physics can have. I finally started to grasp the very basics of why. I learned that quantum mechanics isn’t that hippy shit that went into What the Bleep Do We Know? I learned why time travel is theoretically possible- and it all has to do with light! How fucking awesome is that?!

I will be reading Feynman’s books. He is a genius (there is no question about that), but, more importantly, he is funny and relatable. True, he put in a lot of the legwork on the construction of the most devastating weapon in the history of mankind, but nobody’s perfect. If you know a kid who is having trouble with physics or has to read a biography but doesn’t want to read something boring, steer him/her this way. Feynman’s visual manner of thinking translates very well into a graphic novel format. I totally dug it. As far as this particular type of media is concerned, for me, it will be to nonfiction what Scott Pilgrim is to fiction.

God bless.
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 11, 2011 02:58PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Great review. Feynman's responsible for one of my favorite quotes:

"A poet once said, 'The whole universe is in a glass of wine.' We will probably never know in what sense he meant it, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflection in the glass; and our imagination adds atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe's age, and the evolution of stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization; all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts -- physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on -- remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure; drink it and forget it all!"


message 2: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 11, 2011 03:07PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I have a similar anger at shoddy science education. I didn't come to really appreciate science until college where it was largely studying the history of scientific advancements (or at least that's what I paid attention to, the details eluded me a lot). But it truly wasn't until after college, when I started independently reading and listening to great ambassadors of scientific thinking and science generally, that I really began to appreciate and understand scientific thinking and advancements the way I do now.

I think the larger problem is not teaching, from a young age, the value of what can loosely be called critical thinking and/or skepticism, which are at the heart of scientific investigation and the powerful tools that have brought about all the technological, political, economic, philosophical advancements that so many people enjoy and take for granted.


message 3: by Miriam (new)

Miriam If you can believe it, I didn’t know who the fuck Richard Feynman was.

My high school experience was pretty equivalent, although we had Marine Biology instead of Geology, so we were coloring in line drawings of salt marsh fauna. I did not get to take physics or calculus, and my trig course was taught by a substitute with no math background.

However, I did know who Feynman was because he was my cousin (once-removed)'s graduate advisor. My cousin gave me Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! to read before going off to college, and I recommend that if you haven't read it already.


message 4: by Greg (new)

Greg This book did look kind of lame from the art standpoint. I'm glad to hear that it's a good one, I'll now be happy to put it on a display someplace.


message 5: by Esteban (new)

Esteban del Mal FYI: "Fuck you, Mr. Beatty!" is now available as an author quote.


Caris Esteban wrote: "FYI: "Fuck you, Mr. Beatty!" is now available as an author quote."

God bless you, Esteban. You're fucktastic.


Caris MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "I have a similar anger at shoddy science education. I didn't come to really appreciate science until college where it was largely studying the history of scientific advancements (or at least that's..."

Love the quote. As I was reading, I spent a good deal of time searching for something to frantically copy down his words with until it dawned on me that I was reading a fucking comic book and there was a good chance that I wasn't reading his exact words.

I think you're spot on with the science education idea. At least that's how it was for me. I spent the first few (fucking five!) years of college avoiding science. But just before I graduated, I had to take a course called Science and Society. The teacher was an arrogant asshole who happened to be very, very good at what he did. That class was, as you said, all about critical thinking and engaging science with the knowledge that even these people are trying to bullshit you. The philosophies and politics behind the discoveries and advancements are at least as interesting as the science itself.


Caris Greg wrote: "This book did look kind of lame from the art standpoint. I'm glad to hear that it's a good one, I'll now be happy to put it on a display someplace."

It's so much more than the art. A lot of people are going to love this book as much as I did.

Elizabeth wrote: "My school derailed my math because I moved in the middle of the year, so they wouldn't let me continue with algebra and made me repeat basic math. I never recovered.

I like telling former teachers..."


I wish I could goat in that same way. I went the way they sent me- to the arts. I'm still deficient in math and science. I wish I wasn't. I've given consideration to, after I'm done with all career-related education, going back for that science degree I was told I could never have.

Miriam wrote: "If you can believe it, I didn’t know who the fuck Richard Feynman was.

My high school experience was pretty equivalent, although we had Marine Biology instead of Geology, so we were coloring in l..."


I'm adding it to my list. Marine Biology sounds a million times more interesting than geology. I get excited at the thought of coloring fish. Rocks hold no appeal for me.


message 9: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Marine Biology is interesting, and I wish we had actually learned it.

Not knowing chemistry was an issue when I started working at a winery. For instance, just speaking hypothetically, sulfites and sulfides are not the same thing, and it makes a difference which one you add to the fermentation process.


Caris What's that? Real life application? Surely you kid.


message 11: by Megan (new)

Megan Aww, I liked Mr. Beatty. :(


Caris I did, too. He just wasn't the best teacher on the planet.


Caris Thanks, Brian. I'll put that one on the ol' to-read.


Caris Brian, you're a sweetheart.


message 15: by Magdelanye (new)

Magdelanye We didnt even have an Earth Sciences class back when I went to high school. You were called a hippie and a freak if you ever mentioned pesticides or whole foods or suggested that the Earth had a consciousness.

Fish are kind of interesting but I love rocks

Main reason I'm commenting tho is to thank you for this review as we carry this book from time to time in the bookstore and Ive wondered about their odd unscientific titles in the science section. Now I will be way more informed for our customers and may even read myself.


message 16: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I grew up in San Francisco so we did learn about plate tectonics in elementary, and of course the Saving the Environment was a constant (although not very scientific) refrain, but we didn't learn any non-earthquake-related geology.


message 17: by Magdelanye (new)

Magdelanye Miriam wrote: "I grew up in San Francisco so we did learn about plate tectonics in elementary, and of course the Saving the Environment was a constant (although not very scientific) refrain, but we didn't learn a..."

here in Vancouver,we are on the same faultline, but when I was in elementary school we were still preoccuppied with bombing and being a nuclear target.
We had these random alerts when an alarm bell would ring and we would be timed how quickly we could take cover under our desks.

Saving the Environment has only just become a mainstream preoccupation. As I mentioned above, I came of age when the folks who first brought these issues to world attention were still being ridiculed and even arrested for their beliefs if they made themselves truly vulnerable by going up against the monopoly capitalists and agribiz.

I myself was kicked out of my (Canadian) high school in the middle of my last year, for my position on the vietnam war.They actually accused me of being a communist when ironically, I considered myself a pacifist with training in passive resistance, but I was still so young and poorly educated I didnt really even know what a communist was.


Judith Hart This book is also on my ten worst books list. I have almost everything by and about Feynman. Books, old cassette tapes, DVDs, CDs, textbooks, lectures, workbooks. These I own. I have read thousands of books but only own around 400.
The writers and publishers of this book should have a huge object fall on them from a great height!!! LQTM...laughing quietly to myself.


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