Open a comic book and you step into a world of superheroes. In the late twentieth century, few cultural heroes were more super than Nobel Prize physicist-educator-safe cracker Richard Feynman. So what if he didn't don a cape, stop bullets with his bare hands, or wear his underpants outside his trousers: he revolutionized our understanding of how light works, helped build the first atomic bomb, solved the Challenger mystery, and played some pretty mean bongos. Most remarkably, though, he brought the squiggly world of quantum physics within the ken, if not complete understanding, of dingbats like me.
Now Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick have brought Feynman's enthusiasm for explanation to a whole new audience of proto-physicists. Their graphic biography, simply titled Feynman (2011), may have been written for an adolescent audience, but it hooked me (a semi-centenarian) and held me for a full afternoon of absolute reading pleasure. The kid in me was fascinated by the illustrations, easy language, and humor; my more cerebral self was engrossed with the science, and touched and roused by Feynman's attitudes. Feynman's optimism and energy are infectious, and his curiosity about things outside his specialty — art, language, Tuva — may prompt you to visit a few new stacks the next time you're in the library. My only regret is that the authors – artists and writers themselves – didn't probe Feynman's interest in these topics as deeply as they could have.
When you've read this colorful life, will you understand gravity, quantum electrodynamics, or the rules of a happy marriage? Nope, but you may look at your reflection in the mirror in a whole new light, and that rainbow pattern you see on your DVDs may mean more to you. And you may approach your own arcane mysteries with a renewed spring in your step and a better sense of how to explain to others why you're interested in something that they probably find hideously abstruse.
If you end up liking this comic book version of Feynman's life, try one of Feynman's own quirky autobiographies, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What other People Think? And the (almost complete) bibliography at the end of this book will point you to plenty of other Feynman resources in print and on line.