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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

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A series of anecdotes, such as are included in Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman, shouldn't by rights add up to an autobiography, but that's just one of the many pieces of received wisdom that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) cheerfully ignores in this engagingly eccentric book. Fiercely independent (read the chapter entitled "Judging Books by Their Covers"), intolerant of stupidity even when it comes packaged as high intellectualism (check out "Is Electricity Fire?"), unafraid to offend (see "You Just Ask Them?"), Feynman informs by entertaining. It's possible to enjoy Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman, a bestseller ever since its initial publication in 1985, simply as a bunch of hilarious yarns with the author as know-it-all hero. At some point, however, attentive readers realise that underneath all the merriment simmers a running commentary on what constitutes authentic knowledge: learning by understanding, not by rote; refusal to give up on seemingly insoluble problems, and total disrespect for fancy ideas that have no grounding in the real world. Feynman himself had all these qualities in spades, and they come through with vigour and verve in his no-bull prose. No wonder his students--and readers around the world--adored him. --Wendy Smith

350 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,631 reviews
Profile Image for Emily.
13 reviews36 followers
March 2, 2009
This book of anecdotes is written in a very casual, fun way that makes it easy to read. The problem is that the author, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Dick Feynman, is annoying. All the anecdotes involve him discovering a hidden talent, using it, delighting others (or himself if that's his real goal) and then being applauded for it (sometimes only by himself). For example, he discovers that he's a great artist, musician, safecracker, and critic. Everything revolves around him showing off and being somewhat of a jerk. There were many times when I thought, yeah buddy, *you* think it's funny but no one else does. A few stories like this and it's quirky but piled on top of each other, it's annoying.

I can't really recommend this book. Maybe mischevious self-aggrandizing guys would enjoy it but otherwise, I suggest a pass.
Profile Image for Otis Chandler.
392 reviews114k followers
March 22, 2017
This book was a pure delight. The subtitle "Adventures of a Curious Character" is spot-on. Feynman gave an amazingly human and honest view into his philosophy and take on life, thought a series of stories.

One thing that struck me most deeply was his passion for learning new things. You would think a world-famous Physicist would just be passionate for Physics - but Feynman was curious about everything he saw. He dabbled in art and was successful enough to have a show, he joined a Brazilian Bongo group and competed with them, he hung out in Vegas until he grokked gambling, he spent time in strip bars in Arizona until he figured out how to pick up women, he cracked safes in Los Alamos for fun - the list goes on! My take: you should have your passions - but you should also have your hobbies. I think I need a new hobby :)

I really enjoyed his lessons learned from observing the Brazilian educational system. He noted that many of the students were simply memorizing words and formulas and had no understanding of the concepts they applied to. I think this is not a unique problem in education.

Another lesson learned from Feynman's studies of science is to never take any data for granted. Always always question the sources. Whenever Feynman did an experiment he would re-generate many of the numbers on his own - even if they had been published in other places. For many things we are (and not just in science) standing on the shoulders of giants. The easiest way to be led astray is if those results were never right to begin with.

I think Feynman was in his heart a true educator and scientist, with real integrity. And I think it drove him nuts how many important decisions are made using unscientific principles. This book was a light-hearted attempt to point that out - not to mention, a very entertaining read.
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,271 reviews2,442 followers
April 14, 2023

Richard P. Feynman was a winner of the Nobel prize in physics. This book tells us about various escapades he had in his life. I have read a few books written by Nobel Prize winners in Physics. Most of them were written formally about the academy stuff related to Physics.

I knew what I had to expect from this book. I was in for a big surprise when I started reading it. This book will give you a totally different experience. You are in for a joyride with Mr. Feynman, who discusses almost everything under the sun with ease in a brilliant humorous way.

His tryst with art, Brazilian bongo, bars, gambling, dating, and many other things will keep you amazed and entertained at the same time. We will wonder how this Physicist got a handsome amount for his drawings. He was the very best in almost everything he tried in his life.

What I learned from this book
1) Why is it important for a Scientist to be genuine?
Feynman tells us the importance of being genuine in Scientific circles to avoid bias and the importance of avoiding revealing only favorable data.
"The idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists...
You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.”

2) How did Japan become a developed country?
If you are someone who read the book, To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima, you will see how terribly Japan was affected due to the world war and the atom bomb explosion in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From that situation, Japan has become a superpower. Many factors contributed to their success, like the Kaizen technique, Toyota way, minimalism, Ikigai, and Kakeibo. Feynman tells us how Japan developed at such a fast pace.
"The people of Japan believed they had only one way of moving up: to have their children educated more than they were; that it was very important for them to move out of their peasantry to become educated. So there has been a great energy in the family to encourage the children to do well in school, and to be pushed forward. Because of this tendency to learn things all the time, new ideas from the outside would spread through the educational system very easily. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Japan has advanced so rapidly."

3) How did Mr. Feynman become the best in whatever he tried to do in his life?
We will be amazed at the different areas that Feynman could handle in his life. He was very successful in almost all the fields he tried to deal with. He himself is saying that it was due to his confidence that he was able to deal with multiple fields like Physics, Art, and Music in his life.
“You have to have absolute confidence. Keep right on going, and nothing will happen.”

My favourite three lines from this book
“I always do that, get into something and see how far I can go.”

"You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing."

"The whole problem of discovering what was the matter, and figuring out what you have to do to fix it–that was interesting to me, like a puzzle."

What could have been better?
The problem with this book is that Feynman might sound narcissistic and chauvinistic in some areas of this book. Some won't like the way he described women and other fields of science like biology. His extraordinary confidence can be interpreted as grandiosity by some people.

Feynman himself said that he is not a perfect person. He had his own negatives. Feynman died in February 1988. Most of the incidences discussed in this book happened in the 1950s to 1980s. We should also consider the time period in which he lived and should never try to interpret this book with the political correctness of 2022.

I can't still blame a reader if they felt what I described above, as I also felt the same in some parts of this book. There are innumerable positives in this book that will cancel all the above negatives easily.

5/5 This book will be a good choice if you want to have a fun filled experience for sometime with a true genius.

“I wonder why. I wonder why.
I wonder why I wonder.
I wonder why I wonder why
I wonder why I wonder!”

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Profile Image for da AL.
371 reviews373 followers
April 25, 2018
Hadn't thought a Nobel pprize-winning physicist could be so fun loving & down-to-earth. He was a man ahead of his time when it came to many things -- & of his time when it came to his ideas about 'pretty girls' (as he calls women). The audiobook reader did a great job, but what a shame Feynman didn't read it himself before he passed on...
Profile Image for Infinite Jen.
87 reviews430 followers
March 26, 2023
Allow me to regale you with tales of one of the smartest bags of plasma to ever ambulate across the stage before succumbing to planned obsolescence and (empirically speaking), being quiescent for an indeterminate amount of time. (It occurs to me that Shakespeare's original semantic construction of this sentiment cemented itself firmly in the depths of posteriors (i.e. posterity) for reasons that this formulation evinces none of, so I will try again. I am here to fuck your occiptal lobes with words and characters which clumsily circumscribe the time which one of the keenest minds in the history of big-brain-energetics piloted a bipedal robot across Jotunheim before catching an errant hammer with a suspiciously short handle, (i.e. the work of the trickster Loki in the form of a fly who bit a surly dwarven blacksmith (Sindri) upon his asshole while he was forging Mjölnir), right directly in his germline, thus cashing all of its lethal liquidity into what Ludwig von Mises called, "A Gonadal Götterdämmerung" and ensuring this brilliant mind could no longer beseech the hearts and minds of mortal denizens upon that plane of existence for a very long, (perhaps indefinite), amount of time due to investing his entire savings into precious metals with Birch Gold. While simultaneously occluding from his high powered perception, the fact that his untimely demise was a product of Útgarða-Loki, a giant, and known master of trickery, (in case the name didn't give it away), having tricked the piss drunk battle god into attempting to lift a giant grey cat which manages to arch it's back regardless of what he does and thus only allows him to lift a single paw, incensing the Thunder Lord until he begins to spin his hammer whilst muttering curses, until finally he screams, "FUCK THE NINE WORLDS!", and releases the deadly instrument to careen across the tundra like a meade powered railgun and strike Mr. Feynman, (with improbable precision), directly in the prickly knapsack and discombobulate and oblitify (sic) his corporeal triangulation. Imagine this:

You've encased Tom Cruise in a cube of frozen piss for the next Mission Impossible. Wait, let me start over. You've freshly emerged from a vat of sliquid silver silicone-based lube, your body glistening like a chicken tender writhing on the corrugated teeth of a Foreman Grill. You thought this might provide you some advantage whilst grappling with Inter-universal Teichmüller theory, but it has only served to leave you sexually agitated to the point of humping furniture. Repeated bouts of Turkish Oil Wrestling with abrasive fabrics has left your morsels tender and your cognitive nutrients depleted. You're simply too goddamn stupid to understand this. You’re so dumb you couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel. You might as well give up. Belching forth a the line of caustic invectives which follow: "The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.” You then collapse.

During the course of your angry nap, you experience a fitful dream. You’re in the midst of a grueling marathon. Your muscles are bathed in acid. Your lungs are a frozen ball of expanding gas crowding out your innards. With tremendous effort, and cussing so foul memory doesn’t permit you to recall it, you crest a hill. Off in the distance, you see the smartest people you know in your personal life, implacably approaching the finish. You realize that, with enough training, you could bridge the cognitive divide between you and them. “If I just buckle down and learn my multiplication tables, I can run shoulder to shoulder with Sara and Jimbo.” You think. They’re not so different from you, they just didn’t spend approximately 90% of their time playing Roguelike games and cursing when no systems of meta progression are present to lessen the torment between runs/watching videos on how to modify their newly acquired steam deck in order to play every smut game available on itch.io /rewatching Jersey Shore/teabagging molten subduction zones/dressing in all black and pretending to steal stuff from their own home when cars go by in the night/directing comrades to Ubuntu repositories in order for them to also experience unbridled smut on linux based operating systems of a handheld nature/eating fermented pineapple/zooming to pixel-depth on Aleister Crowley's nutsack/trying to become proficient with a Manriki-Gusari/attempting to scale a sheer cliff using only their wet underwear so they could proclaim from the summit: “She writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash!"
This thought lightens your burdens and you push on with renewed vigor.

Well, don’t get carried away, chief, because you stagger across the finish line like a spastic newborn giraffe doing The Butterfly and conduct a violent emesis of nutrients from both ends while pissing at right angles the entire time (don't try this). At this moment, a man comes trotting by your (geometrically peculiar) fetal form. His steps are springy and there’s a curious clinking noise that accompanies his gait. He’s got a mischievous grin and intelligent eyes. He doesn’t appear to be sweating and his breathing is relaxed. How curious, you think. At least you beat one person in this podiatric blasphemy. “You never push a noun against a verb without trying to blow up something.” You offer your cryptic condolences to the stranger as he sails past you with a good natured laugh.

“That’s Richard Feynman.” Someone says.

“Poor bastard.” You retch.

“That’s his tenth lap. He just does this shit for fun.”

As the man recedes into the periphery, you catch a glint of metal. Beneath his shorts you see what appear to be cybernetic ostrich legs with bio-memetic hydraulic ankles and responsive foot springs.

Well, shit, that wasn’t as uplifting as I intended it to be. My point is: There’s smart people that you can imagine emulating through linear improvements, and then there are people like Richard Feynman, who are a different kind of athlete (and arguably a damned cheater). If you read this book you’ll come to know a bit about an affable rascal, a maverick, a first principles thinker with a wicked sense of humor who was insatiably curious about the natural world. A person who wasn’t comfortable with understanding anything superficially. He had a low tolerance for horseshit, saying a lot that means very little, (forgive me, Dick), sloppy reasoning, people pretending to know things they can’t possibly know, and making things more complicated than they need to be. Here is a brief (far from exhaustive) list of things he applied his alien intellect to:

Quantum Electrodynamics.
Statistical Mechanics.
Parallel Computing
Radio construction and repair.
Playing bongo drums.
Criticizing the educational systems' emphasis on rote memorization.
Participating in humanity’s potential swan song at Los Alamos.
Safe cracking.
Taking a cudgel to uppity philosophers.
Sussing out bureaucratic and engineering malfeasance in the wake of The Challenger Disaster.
Coercing ants to follow pheromone trails.
Cultivating an eccentric personality which makes for an interesting portfolio of anecdotes which comprise the bulk of this book.
Threatening to piss through a man in a bar bathroom.
Metabolizing oxygen.
Offering the best quote of all time on his deathbed. “I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring.”

Feynman is a personal hero of mine, and this is one of the greatest autobiographies ever written. It is genuinely funny, and if you come away from it without wanting to know more about how things really work, well, you’re dead to me. Let’s go out with a quote, because I’ve exhausted my word-bag.

“I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know the answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.” - Dick Feynman.

"I'm too drunk to taste this chicken." - The Late-Great Colonel Sanders.

Despair of your position on the continuum of human intellect with this book!
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews673 followers
February 21, 2015
“Would you like cream or lemon in your tea, Mr. Feynman?” It’s Mrs. Eisenhart, pouring tea.

“I’ll have both, thank you,” I say, still looking for where I’m going to sit, when suddenly I hear “Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh. Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman.”

The title of this collection comes from a tale that took place early in Feynman's career where he was invited for an afternoon tea with the dean of his university. The dean's wife is serving and asks him the above question. Richard never drinks tea and never moves in the same society that does, little own the society that has lemon OR cream with it.

A big theme of these stories and indeed a running theme in Feynman's life is that he had no time for formalisms, rituals or societal views. He does attribute a lot of this to his upbringing. His father was a uniform maker and often dealt with clients of all types of notoriety and he knew that underneath all those uniforms were just another naked ape. He passed on his views to his children and Richard went so far as to nearly not accept his Nobel Prize. To him it was another form of bullshit and that his reward had already been awarded with other scientists using his findings.

It's no argument that Feynman was a brilliant physicist, but he also had many interests. And a great proportion of these stories are about these interests or how his interests intersected with his physics work. There is only one story in this collection that is technical in any way. The collection reads as if you had somehow run into Feynman in a seedy bar in 1960s Vegas (there's a story about this time) waiting for a showgirl to finish work. He is a great orator and the origins of these stories are that they were recorded and transcribed by Ralph Leighton, a drumming pal of Richard's. Yes, Feynman played the bongos.

So while you have this brilliant man, in some ways ahead of his time in the ways that he thought and how he acted, there ares some hints that he is a man of his time. Reading these stories you come to realise that Feynman was quite the womaniser. He appreciated the female form in a socially acceptable way for the time that he lived in. And so when someone from the twenty-first century reads this book he can come across as a bit sleazy. I am not going to defend his attitudes nor am I going to condone them. Personally I found nothing overtly offensive about his actions or his attitudes. But I can imagine my partner reading this and sighing at several statements made by him.

The book covers times in his childhood right up until late in life. There is a nice large chapter on his time at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project. There are also stories about his time in Brazil and Japan and his love for immersing himself in a different way of life. There are also a couple of great chapters on education; one about the standard of students he sees while in Brazil and the other concerning a time when he was asked to be on a panel to decide high school texts for his school region.

I'd recommend this read to most people. It is extremely accessible, with little jargon or technical physics. It talks more on his philosophy of living, learning and how to deal with the world around you. He is definitely a great orator and that is why his legacy lives on. This book remains a popular seller in the general sciences and recordings of his lectures and interviews are popular on youtube. It's great to know that we still have so much of him around.

And for those who want more there are plenty more collections of his wisdom. There is also Feynman a biographic graphic novel.
Profile Image for Nick.
498 reviews20 followers
November 28, 2011
One of the problems with reading a book written by a genius is that you have to ask yourself whether any perceived deficiencies in the text are due to the author, or due to your own failure to comprehend his brilliance. That said, I wasn't thrilled by this book. On a purely technical level, it would have benefited from a stronger editor. While there's a rough chronological order to the material, there tends to be a lot of jumping around both within and between the chapters. A few times, Feynman would relate some post-WWII anecdote, only to jump back to something that happened during his time at Los Alamos in the early 1940s. He'll mention that he divorced his second wife, and then shortly thereafter tell a story set during the marriage. It gives the book a very disjointed quality.

On a more personal level, Feynman just doesn't strike me as someone you'd want to spend time with. About 30% of his stories talk about a time he pulled a fast one on somebody, or how he did something arrogant and obnoxious and it developed into an incident. Reading this book feels like babysitting a very rambunctious toddler--as amusing as his antics may be, you're can't help but looking forward to it being over. And while it's perhaps unfair to judge his behavior by modern standards, some of the womanizing and borderline misogyny (as when he decides that the best way to pick up women in bars is to treat them badly and call them whores) is a bit disappointing. Feynman's scientific accomplishments may be beyond reproach, but I doubt I'll spend any more time with his memoirs.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
January 31, 2016
“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing.”
― Richard Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!


I've been circling this book, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, and Gleck's Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman for awhile. This one seemed the most fun and easiest place to start. I was driving from Taos/Santa Fe back to Phoenix last week and as I drove past Los Alamos, it was just the particle collision in my brain I needed to start on Feynman.

Often, memoirs are hard to read because you know a bunch of it is façade. A person is showing you a part of them for a purpose. They want to be viewed as smart, important, funny, etc. They carefully guide you through a Potemkin village of their life. Richard Feynman's memoir is different. Not that I don't think Feynman had an ego. He might have even had an agenda with the book. But, for the most part, he seemed much more interested in the stories he wanted to tell, rather than on how they would make him look. He wasn't all that worried about how he looked so much. His entire life was built around doing what he wanted, exploring what he found interesting, violating taboos, beating his own drums and cutting his own path.

He was a Nobel-prize winning polymath physicist whose other talents included playing drums, teaching, drawing naked girls, picking locks, making atomic bombs, practical jokes, and telling stories. He wasn't interested in the usual trappings of success. Many of those things annoyed him. He was curious. He was a risk-taker. He was a genius.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
September 25, 2014
Everyone has a collection of favorite stories that they enjoy telling; but it's unusual for the stories to be so good that a friend insists on writing them down, so that other people can appreciate them too. When I read this book, I almost feel that Feynman's telling the stories himself. Well, when that happens in real life, you always want to join in; here's my personal best effort at a Feynman-type anecdote. I hope it's now far enough in the past that the people concerned will see the funny side, if they happen to stumble across this page by accident!


It was early 2000, and I had just started working at NASA Ames Research Center in California. I was part of this little group that was supposed to be developing spoken language dialogue systems for space applications. The guy whose idea it was had started up the group, recruited me and two other people, and then left to join Microsoft Research before I'd even arrived. So everyone was looking at us suspiciously. Why did NASA need software that you could talk to?

The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,284 followers
September 2, 2016
I'll never make that mistake again, reading the experts' opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that's the end of you.

I can usually tell when I’m going to give a book 5 stars by one sign: I can’t shut up about it. Well, I couldn’t and can’t shut up about this book; it was simply great. This greatness sort of snuck up on me. I’d recently read a collection of anecdotes by a scientist (A Primate’s Memoir) and found it rather disappointing. Plus, the whole idea of reading a book of stories about a great physicist, without learning any actual physics, seemed silly. But my skepticism had withered away by the end of the first chapter; I was entranced by the man, absolutely fascinated, and remained so the whole time.

The subtitle of this book is perfect, because the two meanings of the word “curious” converge to encapsulate Feynman: he was curious in the sense of being odd, as well as curious in his love of learning. I was trying to figure out a way to describe Feynman’s personality, and this is the best I’ve come up with: Feynman is Huck Finn grown up to become a physicist. The qualities that make Mark Twain’s most famous character so endearing are also the qualities that endear Feynman to me: mischievousness, curiosity, cleverness, honesty, naiveté, friendliness, frankness, and an uncompromising moral principle. Like Huck, Feynman is always getting himself into absurd situations, and getting out of them with pure quickness of mind; like Huck, Feynman likes to fool other people and play tricks, but all without a hint of malice; and like Huck, Feynman will stick his neck out for what he feels is right.

There are some hilarious stories in here, which I won’t spoil. But what was more impressive to me was the amount of serious thought that could be found. Feynman’s criticism of the Brazilian school system—which relied overmuch on memorization by rote, and concentrated overmuch on passing tests, instead of teaching students how to make sense of the world around them—applies equally well to many aspects of the current U.S. school system. Equally relevant was Feynman’s chapter on the time he served on the board that oversaw the evaluation of math textbooks for the California school system; it was a Kafkaesque farce. But by far the most consistent intellectual theme that went through these reflections was an absolute distrust of pretension, reputation, convention, snobbery, prestige, and authority.

In my own life, one of the most interesting, and also most difficult, lessons that I’ve had to learn is that people are not nearly as competent as they’d like you to believe. When I was a kid, I had a lot of faith in all sorts of things. I thought that if an ‘expert’ said something, it must be true; I assumed that there was a particular ‘expert’ in every type of activity, be it business or science, to ensure that things ran the way they were supposed to. In short, I had the comforting illusion that very smart people in very white lab coats were behind the scenes, ensuring that things ran smoothly. The world certainly cooperated with this illusion for a while (after all, that’s the whole basis of advertising); but it wasn’t long after meeting people in the ‘real world’ that this illusion imploded: the world is run by people underqualified and overconfident.

I include this bit about myself because I don’t think I would have reacted so emotionally to this rather lighthearted book were it not that I had that experience. In a way, a distrust of all authority is Feynman’s central social message. He is constantly running into ‘experts’ who haven’t the slightest idea what they’re talking about. He goes to academic conferences full of pretentious windbags; he trusts the results of other people’s experiments, and later finds that they were seriously flawed.

So any time somebody makes a claim, he decides to test it out for himself; and the few times he doesn’t do this, he gets into trouble. This realization, that most people are inclined to trust claims from authority, is integral to his almost supernatural ability to navigate unfamiliar situations; Feynman is so easily able to bluff his way through because people take his word for things. So this central insight—to always check for youself—is both the heart of his scientific attitude, as well as his way of effortlessly gliding through the world. His ability to crack safes, for example, wasn’t due to his knowing a lot about safes, but simply realizing that most people used their safes foolishly, not resetting the factory combination or setting it to something obvious. Most of us assume that we couldn’t figure out how to crack a safe; but Feynman did what he always did, and saw for himself whether he could: and he could!

I honestly wish that this book was three times its length. Now, I must know more about Feynman. My favorite saints are the ones who would hate to be worshiped, and Feynman certainly would think this glowing review was nonsense. Well, perhaps it is; but the only way you’ll know for sure is by reading this book, and checking for yourself.
Profile Image for William.
1 review1 follower
July 15, 2016
"Nobody ever figures out what life is all about,and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough."(Video Review)
The story of Feynman changed fundamentally, what I think about the world around me.
The story of Richard and his father helped me to understand, that many parents could help their children to a more fulfilling life. Parents could pique the interest of the child very early and could give him real answers if he asks why again and again.
He changed my view about scientists. He proved that the life of a scientist can be also “sexy” and interesting and the same time useful and deep activity. You rarely have a chance to meet pedagogues who can help you fall in love with learning and set the fire of science in you, as Feynman did.
This book is not only interesting for physicists and scientists, but also for parents and pedagogues who want to inspire their children, students to have a better life. Elon Musk (founder of Tesla) founded a school build on the same principles what Feynman confessed. Where children have a chance to understand the thing work around us, understand the “whys”, and continuously maintain the interest of the students.
Of course many people cannot afford this luxury. But also they can profit from these pedagogical principles, even if these seems to be terrifying at the first time as a parent. If you encourage your child to question anybody, you will be also questioned. If you encourage your child, not to defer to different orders, it questions basic societal values of many people and they can be stigmatized being unrespectful.
But I think, you will only show a path for your child, which even can lead to the Nobel-prize, but to a happier, more interesting life. And now I am surely not joking.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews899 followers
November 30, 2011
There’s presumably a rule where only smart people are awarded Nobel Prizes in Physics. Richard Feynman was no exception. This memoir is filled with anecdotes from his childhood spent fixing radios, his experiences as a young man doing bomb research at Los Alamos up through his days as a renowned professor at Cal Tech. The central theme was always that this is one smart cookie. It was interesting to pick up on his thought processes. It probably didn’t feature as much pure science as most of his other books, but at least you could appreciate his intuition into the physical world’s biggest puzzles. Rather than emphasizing the technical details of physics, most of his stories were focused on his other interests and his geeky humor.

While some of the stories were entertaining, and the lumens of candle power abounded, it didn’t always work for me. I kept getting the feeling that had the same stories been told in the third person, they would have been better – less egotistical sounding. In every one of his sidelines, he was masterful. It was like he was still driving home the point of how brilliant he was even when he was slumming it. After a while, I got tired of hearing how he became fluent in Portuguese when he taught in Brazil, or impressed the locals to no end with his distinctive style of bongo playing, or could dance like a professional, or got just about any woman he wanted to sleep with him. It was this last one that left the worst taste in my mouth. Some of his tales of attraction and conquest occurred when one of his wives was on her death bed.

He was probably not as bad as I’ve made him sound. Like I said, we can certainly appreciate his intellect. He had a rare ability to explain difficult concepts in laymen’s terms, too. I got a confirmation of this a week after I finished the book when we were interviewing a former student of his from Cal Tech. He mentioned the “Feynman Effect”: a phenomenon whereby someone asking him a question got answered in such a clear and intuitive way that it was only later that they realized they still didn’t know exactly how it all tied to their existing understanding.

So, count me as a fan of his scientific contributions and his ability to communicate, but not of his swagger. If it had all been a bit of a joke (you know, physicist … funny hair … limited social skills … but a would-be Lothario in spite of it), I would have laughed along with him, but I don’t think that was his intention.
Profile Image for Rosh.
1,577 reviews1,844 followers
April 24, 2022
Want to read a book that is full of bragging and humblebragging? Here’s the book for you. Reading this was like sitting across a table with an interesting person, only to realise that he finds just one topic interesting: himself. Pompous prig alert! 😬

What Richard Feynman wanted me to learn from this book:
1. Richard Feynman is fabulous at physics.
2. Richard Feynman is fabulous at mathematics.
3. Richard Feynman is fabulous at biology.
4. Richard Feynman is fabulous at picking up girls. (He “loves beautiful girls.”)
5. Richard Feynman is fabulous at unlocking safes.
6. Richard Feynman is fabulous at playing musical instruments, even live on stage.
7. Richard Feynman is fabulous at learning new languages (or at least pretending to.)
8. Richard Feynman is fabulous at coding and decoding ciphers.
9. Richard Feynman is fabulous at dancing.
10. Richard Feynman is fabulous at teaching.
11. Richard Feynman is fabulous at sketching and painting. (Not surprisingly, he loved to draw nudes best.)
12. Richard Feynman is fabulous at Mayan anthropology.

There are many more things Richard Feynman is fabulous at but these are all I remember now.

What I didn’t find in this book:
1. Details about Feynman’s family except for a barebones mention of his parents and sister and a few paras on his three wives whenever they are a part of his anecdotes about how fabulous he is.
2. Details on anything Richard Feynman wasn’t fabulous at, beyond a few paragraphs.

Bonus points I learnt about Richard Feynman
1. Richard Feynman was cocky.
2. Richard Feynman loved to hear himself talk about himself.
3. Richard Feynman treated women as objects and judged them entirely on their physical merits.
4. Richard Feynman considered anyone who didn't understand physics, an idiot.
5. Richard Feynman loved playing pranks on others, whether it was funny to others or dismaying didn’t matter.
6. Richard Feynman was full of attitude and with zilch gratitude.

The only part of the book I enjoyed without getting judgemental was when he spoke of being in a textbook evaluation committee. If you want advice on how to be better at your chosen scientific discipline, jump straight to the last chapter. That’s the only one having content bordering on advice.

I still respect Richard Feynman the physicist, but as a human being, he dropped vastly in my esteem. He must have been an outstanding scientist and teacher but hardly any glimpse of that comes out in this book, which is more of an ode to himself by himself.

Do you remember the Gaston song from ‘Beauty and the Beast’? This is how Feynman would have probably sung it:
No one's slick as Feynman, No one's quick as Feynman,
No one's head is as incredibly thick as Feynman,
For there's no man in town half as manly
(Perfect, a pure paragon!)
You can ask any Tom, Dick, or Stanley
And they'll tell you whose team they prefer to be on.
Who plays darts like Feynman? Who breaks hearts like Feynman?
Who's much more than the sum of his parts like Feynman?
As a specimen, yes, I'm intimidating
Who has brains like Feynman, Entertains like Feynman,
Who can make up these endless refrains like Feynman,
I use antlers in all of my decorating.
Say it again…
Who's a man among men? Who's the super success?
Don't you know? Can't you guess?
Ask his fans and his five hangers-on
There's just one guy in town who's got all of it down
And here’s where I’ll jump in with: “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynmaaaaaan!!!!”
**insert musical crescendo here!**

Join me on the Facebook group, Readers Forever! , for more reviews, book-related discussions and fun.
Profile Image for Jonathan O'Neill.
174 reviews351 followers
August 19, 2021
5 ⭐

’Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character as Told to Ralph Leighton’, aka. ‘What a Quark of Shit, Professor Feynman!’, aka. ‘Feynman Finesses the Frigideira’, is a collection of anecdotes that takes us through some of the more extraordinary, often hilarious and, at times, unbelievable events in the life of the Nobel Prize winning Theoretical Physicist, Richard P. Feynman.

I’ll be honest, I have a habit of grabbing a vice-like grip on hobbies that I have no right picking up. Recently, I have become incredibly excited about Physics! With deep regret, I had no interest in the subject at school, leaving it behind after Year 11, passing by the barest of margins, I was too distracted by the blossoming beauty of the girls in my class and the misguided teenage desire to be popular among one’s peers. Despite this, I was always very good at Mathematics, it was something that came quite naturally and I enjoyed it. Well, I’ve belatedly discovered that where Mathematics focuses on abstract topics using pure logic and Mathematical reasoning, Physics focuses on answering tangible (for the most part) questions using Math as a necessary tool. Feynman expresses this much more aptly:

”Physics is to math what sex is to masturbation”

Physicists want answers! I want answers! “Damn it!”, I said. “I’m gonna learn some Physics!”. So, I’m browsing the net, looking for the best books on Introductory Physics and I keep coming across ’The Feynman Lectures on Physics’. They’re not cheap, but nobody seems to have a single bad word to say about the Collection and I just had to have it! So, I bought it, and in preparation I’ve been watching YouTube videos, Undergrad lectures, BBC Interviews, reading this Autobiography, anything I can get my hands on about this guy whom I’d never heard of before and, I’ll be damned if he hasn’t become an incredible source of inspiration to my inferior layman-self! Feynman’s deep curiosity and boundless intelligence, juxtaposed against his larrikinism and disrespect for authority make him feel simultaneously relatable and beyond reach. Before I say more, here are a number of quotes that I think give an incomplete, but enlightening, glimpse into the mind of Richard Feynman:

”I find myself trying to imagine all kinds of things all the time, and I get a kick out of it, just like a runner gets a kick out of sweating (laughs with childish abandon), I get a kick out of thinking about these things. I can’t stop!!” - ’Fun To Imagine’ Interview’ (On Curiosity)

”One of the things that my father taught me was a disrespect. He’d open a picture, a New York Times, maybe it was a General, and he’d say, “Now, look at these humans,” he’d say.
“Here’s one human standing here and all these others are bowing. Now, what is the difference? Why are they all bowing to him? Only because of his name and his position, because of his uniform, not because of something he especially did.””
- BBC, The Fantastic Mr.Feynman (On Authority)

”I don’t see that it makes any point that someone in the Swedish Academy decides that this work is noble enough to receive a prize. I’ve already got the prize, the prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery, the observation other people use it, those are the real things. The honours are unreal to me, I don’t believe in honours. It bothers me. Honours bothers me! Honours is epaulettes. Honours is uniforms. My Poppa brought me up this way. I can’t stand it. It hurts me.” - BBC, The Fantastic Mr.Feynman (On winning the Nobel Prize)

”… I take it all back. If you give me the right man, in any field, I can talk to him. I know what the condition is: that he did whatever he did as far as he can go, that he studied every aspect of it, that he has stretched himself to the end. He’s not a dilettante in any way. Therefore he’s up against mysteries all the way around the edge. We can talk about mystery and awe. That’s what we have in common.” - ’The World From another Point of View’ Interview (On Conversation/What makes a “Good Man”)

And there it is. In these 4 quotes, I think you have the bare foundations, the scaffolding if you will, of what makes this man tick.

At times, it feels like Feynman is trying to build his own legend via impressive anecdotes, and if there wasn’t so much evidence confirming his genius, or second-hand accounts of the events he discusses, one might believe that was the case. After all, how many things can one man excel in. Feynman is most well-known for being an incredible theoretical physicist, however, if we’re to believe all the events that take place here, he was also in close proximity to being the first to demonstrate the uniformity of life through his dalliance with Biology and the nature of Ribosomes, he was adept at playing both the Bongos and the Frigideira, he was accomplished enough as an Artist to eventually exhibit and sell his own work, he was a renowned safe-cracker… The list goes on. It’s the classic problem of the unreliable narrator. Is he having us on? For the record, I don’t think so.

That said, Feynman was a prankster whose larrikinism only enhanced his endearingness. He would often trick people into believing he was much better at things than he actually was or that he could perform miracles, whether it be matters of arithmetic or safecracking, a dangerous magic trick or this or that. He’d pretend he could speak Italian (to Italians) and keep on walking with absolute confidence. He failed a Military Psychology Test after taking the piss out of the Shrink, the guy’s amazing!

Feynman’s use of analogy is remarkable. He often makes excellent, humorous and pinpoint analogies regarding the topic at hand that often had me nodding my head in appreciation. I have often thought that a person’s ability to analogise effectively is a great gauge of their understanding of any given subject with respect to the rest of the world. As the Chinese Philosopher, Confucius states, “The ability to make an analogy from what is close at hand is the method and the way of realizing humaneness”.

I found the most interesting part of his story to be the integral role he played in the development of the first Atomic Bomb. The thrill that he and his young team felt at finding solutions to incredibly difficult Mathematical Problems, but ultimately, his belated apprehension, and seeming regret, with regards to his role in the creation of such a devastating weapon:

”After the thing went off (ref. Trinity Detonation Test/Manhatten Project), there was tremendous excitement at Los Alamos. Everybody had parties, we all ran around. I sat on the end of a Jeep and beat drums and so on. But one man, I remember, Bob Wilson, was just sitting there moping.
I said, “What are you moping about?”
He said, “It’s a terrible thing that we made.”
I said, “But you started it. You got us into it.”
You see, what happened to me—what happened to the rest of us—is we started for a good reason, then you’re working very hard to accomplish something and it’s a pleasure, it’s excitement. And you stop thinking, you know; you just stop. Bob Wilson was the only one who was still thinking about it, at that moment.”

Unfortunately, this particular book doesn’t include Feynman’s role in the investigation of The Challenger Disaster. It’s covered in a BBC interview, however, I’ve also heard that it’s included in the “sequel” to this autobiography, titled ‘What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character’. Needless to say, I’ll be picking that one up! If you’ve any interest in Science whatsoever, or if you find yourself in the mood for an Autobiography about a remarkably diverse and charismatic individual, I can’t recommend this one enough!
8 reviews1 follower
July 4, 2012
Listen, I read this a long time ago but here's the thing about it. I'm a big sience fan, and I've always heard how brilliant and funny Richard Feynman was, especially because of his connection to the UofC. But I loathed this book. I suppose it's a memoir, and I don't know if it's ghost written or not, but what was supposed to endear me to Mr Feynman made him revolting to me. According to this book, he treated other people like dirt and thought it was hilarious, he correlated pure intelligence with worth, and he dismissed and disrespected everyone who he felt was not as intellectual as he was (and being that he was a genius, that was most of everybody). Perhaps this is melodramatic, but he sickened me a touch. His blatant disrespect for the work of other scholars in the guise of a patronizing outlook is wholly demoralizing, and for people who wished to pursue a degree in the sciences under him I can't even imagine what it was like to deal with his pomp and ego. I know that the persona displayed in memoirs is different than the actual personality of a person, but the gleeful manner in which he presents his attitude does nothing to disprove my issues with his style.
Profile Image for Ensiform.
1,378 reviews139 followers
January 15, 2019
The Nobel prize winning physicist, acclaimed drummer, artist, expert on Mayan astronomy, safecracker, prankster, etc, etc, tells “crazy adventures” of his life. They’re really not “crazy adventures,” these anecdotes; my own father's are easily just as rich and bizarre. Feynman came off to me as a somewhat unpleasant character: he was full to the brim of himself; his false modesty (“I’m too dim to realize when to keep my mouth shut, I just say what I think”) was cloying and annoying, as were his amazement at anyone else’s talent (a professional drummer is far better than him at the drums; this “shocks” him), his claims to understand nature better than artists, and his thinly-veiled put-downs of anyone even remotely concerned with the abstract. He was just the kind of jerk who, caught up in his criticism of others’ inability to grasp his broad points, never begins to wonder whether he is the one missing the gist. Also, his anecdotes are not fleshed out with context: who exactly are the people he’s talking to? When was this? I don’t care. In all, funny and interesting at times (at Los Alamos, on a committee to select school text books), but mainly kind of mundane.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
May 18, 2022
“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing.”

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! | by Sandra Monteiro | booksnstars

Richard P. Feynman's "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character is a roughly chronological sketch of what seem like discrete incidents, but incidents that really show Feynman's character, sense of humor and more significantly, his curiosity. They were very interesting; however, what struck me most forcefully was the cumulative effect of these stories about Feynman's curiosity. The way that Feynman could be actively curious about anything left me with a sense of awe. That is the way to live, I thought. 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Penny.
121 reviews
March 27, 2016
Feynman is a physicist who taught at Cornell and Princeton, worked on the Manhattan Project and won the Nobel Prize. He's also a complete hoot. The book is a series of autobiographical stories -- pranks pulled as a student at MIT and at Los Alamos, teaching himself to paint, scientific discoveries he made, his three marriages, how he was rejected by the draft board for being mentally suspect (they asked him if he ever heard voices and he said yes he did and then went on to describe what he found interesting about that. He said that sometimes when falling in and out of sleep he'd imagine conversations with his foreign-born colleagues and the voices in his head spoke accurately with their accents -- but that if he tried to imitate such accents he could not do so at all. So how was it that one part of his brain had captured accents correctly but another hadn't? This was entirely typical of Feynman's wide ranging curiosity and intelligence, but the end result in this case was that the psychologists decided he was nuts. His colleagues at Cornell were vastly amused by this.)

What I love about Feynman -- first of all, his great interest in everything and his willingness to experiment. The great joy he found in working things through (he said that the reason he'd never tried drugs, though he was tempted, was that he enjoyed thinking too much and didn't want to risk that.) Also, he's clearly so very intelligent and reading his book, his thoughts seem so easy to follow -- it makes the world of science seem accessible.
Profile Image for Carl Audric Guia.
50 reviews40 followers
March 24, 2022
The best part of this book was Feynman’s insights and stances on what constitutes learning: it’s being able to question concepts that others simply take as true. He touched upon issues like the flaws in our education system or the loss of scientific integrity. I loved the parts where he offered me new ways to catch things that are easy to overlook.

What didn’t sit right with me was how some of his anecdotes came across as misogynistic. Feynman was a brilliant man, but he was kind of creepy around women. One of our greatest scientists was also your run-of-the-mill womanizer.

On a similar note, I think there are more sides to Feynman than the world chooses to see. Feynman might be known for his work in physics, but I think he was also THE renaissance man of his time. Safecracking. Bongos. Nude painting. Pranks. He often said he lacked “culture.” But boy, he had a lot of it.

Feynman taught me that it’s fun to be unconventional. He seemed like the guy who picks up a random skill just because. Minus the “how to manipulate women for fun,” this candid spontaneity is an approach to life worth emulating.
Profile Image for Elizabeth K..
804 reviews40 followers
October 24, 2009
This was disappointing, because I've been wanting to read this for a while because he is so renown for being quite the hilarious character as well as a Nobel prize-winning physicist. This is a collection of essays that serves as a memoir; many are not directly related to physics, but that's definitely the theme. After reading this, my conclusion is that Feynman was mostly a world class knob. He lost me fairly early into it, when he described how you could see physics in action in the everyday world by messing with a waitress's tips. How very droll of you, Mr. Feynman. He is certainly quite the character in the same sense your annoying neighbor is quite the character, the kind who sees you unloading your groceries from the car and saunters over to give you pointless advice about his expert analysis on the best way to unload groceries without helping you, driving you to grit your teeth and nod as you flee toward your door because anything you might say in response, such as "shut UP, annoying guy!" would result in him saying "Aw shucks, I can't help it that I'm smarter than you." Many demerits for egregious overuse of the exclamation point.

Grade: C-
Recommended: Not really, although the essays set during his time at Los Alamos are somewhat interesting given the historical context. I suppose it's possible he really was charming and amusing in real life, but you wouldn't know it from his writing.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,578 reviews43 followers
August 23, 2022
Nope, not wasting any more time on this clown. I read up through his chapter on how to neg a woman in order to trick her into sleeping with you and thought "Yep, I am done. Gave this the good ol' college try but the bad outweighs the good here." Who knew Feynman, as well as being a brilliant Nobel Prize winning physicist was also the patron saint of the PUA(Pick up artist) community?

I am honestly shocked at the number of rave reviews this collection of personal anecdotes has. I assume people are blinded by Feynman's intellect - which was staggering - and his joyful attitude towards learning for learning's sake. Perhaps if I had read a biography of Feynman, written by someone else, I wouldn't have had such a negative reaction to him?

It seemed obvious to me, both as a former SPED teacher and as the parent of someone on the autistic spectrum, that Feynman had undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. He often mentions his inability to understand social cues and to interact successfully with others. His story of using other people's nervous laughter as a clue that his behavior was incorrect was telling. He couldn't tell by unspoken body language or facial expressions or tone of voice - he needed actual tittering laughter to signal that he needed to adjust his behavior. Feynman used his prodigious intellect to help him work around his deficits in social behavior but often it wasn't enough.

The first painful story was that of the waitress and the tip. Oh wow. Even when telling the story, years later, he has no idea how egregious his behavior was. He pulled the juvenile trick of leaving the tip as coins with a full glass of water on top. Two glasses with the coins split between them. Just what a busy server in a restaurant wants to deal with. To add insult to injury, this was a restaurant he went to daily & a waitress that often served him. This is how he repays her for doing a good job. His motivation for being a jerk? He wanted to see if she would be able to figure out how to get her tip without making a big mess, though how he would know this is unclear, since he wasn't there when she attempted it. He returns the next day to find everyone angry at him & the waitress refusing to interact with him anymore. She didn't have time for his intellectual query - since, you know, she had an actual job she needed to be doing - and the water spilled everywhere & that made extra work for her, cleaning his mess up, and then later she slipped & hurt herself on the still damp floor. Feynman has no clue that he has done anything wrong & can't figure out why people are upset. Then - get this - HE DOES IT AGAIN WITH THE NEW WAITRESS SERVING HIM. Hardy har har, ain't he a hoot?

He tells many stories like this, where he is a complete asshole to people. He can't understand why people don't trust him and think he is a liar. One thing he enjoyed doing was pretending to be drunk when he wasn't - ugh, insert big eye roll here - because, I don't know honestly. Because he has no understanding of human emotions and common reactions?

I stopped reading after the anecdote about how he is a nice guy but woman still won't have sex with him - can't they see how nice he is, damn it?! - so he meets a guy who teaches him the trick is to treat women like whores and bitches.

" I adopted the attitude that those girls are all bitches, that they aren't worth anything, and that all they're in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they're not going to give you a goddamn thing. I'm not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches and so on. I learned it till it was automatic."

A good reminder that just because someone is an intellectual genius or has an amazing artistic talent or incredible physical prowess doesn't make them a decent or even likable person. People tend to ascribe positive characteristics to successful people whether they are truly worthy of them or not. Feynman is a good example of this.
Profile Image for Andrej Karpathy.
110 reviews3,657 followers
December 1, 2015
I love this book so much. I really want to give it 6/5. I read and re-read it often, and Feynman is one of my personal top heroes.
Profile Image for Inder.
511 reviews72 followers
April 15, 2008
Laugh out loud funny. My dad read this outloud to us when we were kids - I'm guessing at the exact year - and the whole family literally cried with laughter many times during the performance.

Feyman's other memoirs are good too, but this is the funniest. I still think of it often. For instance, every time I use a combination lock, I think of his safe-cracking phase, and how it's every child's dream to learn how to crack safes and get at all that secret and valuable stuff. Which really sums up this book - Mr. Feyman approached life with the curiosity and glee of a small boy. He never lost that childlike sense of wonder or mischief.

My only caveat - Mr. Feyman was quite the ladies' man, and there is a certain old-school misogyny in his style of writing about women. Looked at in the most charitable light possible, it's a reminder that he was human, as well as a genius physicist, and frankly, not always right. It doesn't make him any less of an amazing physicist, but it does remind us that he was mortal too.

And after reading all of his memoirs, I began to suspect that his cavalier attitude towards women arose at least in part from his grief at the loss of his first wife, who died of cancer at a very young age (her early 20s, if I remember correctly), while he was busy working on the nuclear bomb in Los Alamos. She is the only woman he writes tenderly about - after that, the talk shifts to conquests and getting girls naked. His descriptions of his subsequent marriages lack the warmth of that first marriage, even if there is more fodder for humor. Something about it rings hollow even in Feyman's warm, humorous, self-deprecating voice. There is a real tragedy written between the lines here.
Profile Image for Peter Frazier.
24 reviews4 followers
May 9, 2007
This amusing little book of anecdotes had an alarmingly influential role in my life. It convinced me of the odd notion that it would be a good idea to go to Caltech and major in physics. In retrospect, this would have been a better idea had I been born around 1930 and was starting my scientific career around 1940, but nowadays it's a tough slog in physics, both money-wise and also discovery-wise. I think that people like Bohr and Planck and Einstein and Feynman discovered all the good stuff in physics and that future theory will be more difficult and less beautiful (though perhaps these string-theorists put my foot in my mouth). I wish I had realized all this when I was 17 rather than 24, but all is not lost: physics is wonderful training for all manner of mathematical disciplines, and all has worked out for the best. I retain a deep fondness for this book, and rereading old passages brings me comfort. If you ever have the choice between reading this book and doing something productive and worthwhile, I recommend that you read this book. All will work out for the best for you too.
Profile Image for Bernardo.
71 reviews60 followers
June 27, 2021
“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing.”

Richard Feynman was a showman. He loved to act, was often making jokes on other people and didn’t care about what others thought of him. His contagious character has gained a legendary figure, adding to his also legendary status as a scientist and physicist. Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman is a pretty interesting and funny account of some of Feynman’s most famous “adventures”, and besides being the best way of “getting to know” Richard Feynman, this book is also a joy to read.

This book is really a collection of stories from Feynman’s life. From his childhood to his time as a student at MIT and Princeton, his role at the Manhattan Project during WW2, his first job as a teacher at Cornell and how he later joined Caltech, and finally his trips to Vegas and Buffalo in the US, to Brazil and Japan abroad, and to Stockholm for the Nobel Prize ceremony. It’s a long journey and along the way you also “meet” many of the people with whom Feynman interacted. Famous physicists, government officials, surprising friends and acquaintances, and even close relatives. And at the end you will discover that even though Feynman is the central character in these stories, the “supporting cast” is also pretty good.

Even though Richard Feynman was above all a scientist, you won’t find much science here to be honest, just small amounts here and there. There are many other books from him out there describing physics in detail, but if you want to meet the famous character surrounding the man then Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman is the way to go.
Profile Image for Roberto.
627 reviews1 follower
October 2, 2017

Che la forza sia con te

Richard Feynman è un fisico, premio Nobel nel 1965. Un uomo indubbiamente intelligente, curioso, entusiasta del mondo della tecnica e della scienza.

In questo libro racconta tramite aneddoti la sua vita, fatta di studi importanti (uno per tutti la partecipazione allo sviluppo della bomba atomica a Los Alamos) ma anche di episodi curiosi o apparentemente insignificanti.

Purtroppo non è sufficiente essere intelligenti per scrivere bene. Non basta essere curiosi per incuriosire. Credersi amabili non ci rende simpatici per forza. E non è detto che parlare di fisica in modo “facile” significhi divulgare e interessare.

Forse Feynman parla troppo di sé, o semplicemente di quanto è tanto bravo e intelligente. Fatto sta che ho faticato (molto) a terminarlo (e tantissimo a sopportarlo).
Profile Image for Aditi Jaiswal.
115 reviews151 followers
September 25, 2020
What’s the mark of a truly genius mind?

If I try to conjure up the memories of my experience with the Indian education system, then now I can starkly discern the relatively perduring differences between the two types of students, the one who is teacher’s favourite (the exemplar learner with no social life), whose prime focus is to secure the top position in the class by adopting the surface approach to learning by rote memorization and the other who is mischief (abstraction learner) who find innovative ways of learning the applications of the concepts learned in school or even on the internet, they are the curious cats who try to experiment with everything that they find interesting by pulling intelligent pranks on people and to the amusement of the whole class, they often provoke shrieks of surprise generally followed by laughter from even the teachers. It’s obvious that they have a high functioning mind, which is the cause of such provocative mischievousness, and what follows next is what we already know, when they are constantly being told by their teachers! “You better use your mind to score good grades”.

I think that’s the problem with our education system. It leaves no space for free thinking, it doesn’t let the students to think differently and to let them learn by experiments, by failed attempts, this is why most of us begin to lose interest in science because what we learn doesn’t really stay with us for a long time, since we don’t even understand the whys and hows behind the things!

What makes a wind-up toy go? I thought, “I know what it is: They’re going to talk about mechanics, how the springs work inside the toy; about chemistry, how the engine of the automobile works; and biology, about how the muscles work.”

If this makes you wonder why you never had a teacher who made you question everything and in turn made the process of learning interesting, then this book is for you! Professor Feynman (with his puzzle drive for discovering what’s the matter with things to figure out what to do to fix it) is the teacher you are looking for!

This book is not an autobiography in its absolute sense, it’s rather a recollection of the adventures of a curious character which will give you a new world view to understand the genius behind a prankster and his indignant impatience with pretentious pompous fools and their hypocrisy.

Its hilarious anecdotes (which are divided into wacky yet fascinating chapters) of fixing radio by thinking, stealing a door, learning biology with a map of a cat, fooling safecracker by safecracking, testing bloodhounds, not making decisions by refusing offers, receiving Nobel prize for the pleasure of discovering what he did, drawing and selling his beautiful artworks and learning to be an occasional jerk to women to get laid and playing with ants and bongo professionally, will surely hook you till the end.

Like all smart people he might come across as a narcissist but if you have an admiration for geeky humour coupled with a razor-sharp wit and are curious enough to understand what sets his thought process apart from his brilliant peers, you might discover Feynman techniques to learn how to maintain an open but skeptical mind to look at things differently and your life will never be the same again!
Profile Image for Patrick Peterson.
473 reviews202 followers
September 26, 2023
2023-09-26 Just finished the Blackstone 1997 audiobook version. Absolutely wonderful. My opinion of Feynman and this book is even higher now than before. The book is so timely/timeless, fun, funny and profound, I am astounded. The ending chapter "Cargo Cult Science" is a tour de force of crucial insights. Perhaps even more important today than when it was first published in the 1985. The theme is integrity, especially in science, his field. And the final lines are a plea to keep one's integrity and to search out places, people and institutions that promote the freedom to practice integrity. Isn't that possibly the most important problem we face today?

2023-09-14 After picking this as a book for my dad to listen to on his new Audible acct with the great Shokz bone conducting hearing device and his love of the book, I decided to try it again myself. Listened yesterday to a good chunk of the audio version of this book. Wow! SOOOOOOO good to return to it. It is simply a joy. The creativity, the joie de vivre, the logic, the humor, the passion for science, the passion for fun and solving problems, playing with language, making practical jokes, the disdain for pretense, etc. etc. and his ability to pass those qualities and others on to the reader/listener is just fantastic. So looking forward to continuing the listen... and moving on to his other autobiographical sketches book, "What do you care what they think Mr. Feynman?"

17 Nov. 2017 - I read this about 30-35 years ago and loved it. It was given to me by a scientist friend who said I would like it. I had heard a little about Richard Feynman's reputation as an amazing physicist and was kind of taken aback by the title.

But the book was a pure joy to experience. I have some very vivid memories about his humor and positive views of life and living. He was fantastic at demonstrating clearly that anyone can think through some perceived difficult problems, if they just use the basics and don't give up. His vivid examples of repairing radios, safecracking and diagnosing his wife's ailment (to the consternation of her doctors) [note: I think this example is from the other book, since I did not hear it in this one] struck home to me in a very powerful way.

I recommend this book, and it's later companion (with another funky but pointed title): "What Do You Care What they Think, Mr. Feynman?" to everyone, especially young people, who need a boost in reasoned self-confidence.

Thank you Ross Overbeek, for investing in me with this book. I am eternally grateful.
Profile Image for Claudia.
960 reviews556 followers
April 1, 2015
What a fascinating personality! To follow your dreams, make them happen, make a living out of them, ultimately all this work to be of help for others and above all to enjoy life as you wish to - this is what I call to live your life to the fullest!

Mr. Feynman stories are simply wonderful! They are not just funny - they present a man which desire to learn was his motto in life (he owes this desire to his father, a very remarkable man). According to him, anything can be learned as long as you wish for - so very true. If all pupils and students would have teachers like him, the world would be a much better place... I think the saying "like father, like son" emerged from their relationship. ;)

Some called him corky; others arrogant - and maybe he was. But who are we to judge? I don't think it was easy for him to work on the atomic bomb project - the pressure, the implications... even brilliant minds need a getaway of some form. Maybe when we'll do the things he did we'll get to have a word on this matter. Until then, lets just admire his passion, his dedication and his work.

The book does not contain scientific language, calculations or anything alike. Even if you're not interested in physics, this book is more than worth reading. Such a life experience not many can say they had...

One more thing: I came across on below interview, produced by BBC in 1981, called The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out. 50 minutes length, worth every second of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bgaw9... . It is a shorter version of his memoirs presented in the book and the following fragment is a part of it:

People say to me, “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No I am not. I am just looking to find out more about the world. And if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law that explains everything so be it. That would be very nice discovery. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers and we just sick and tired of looking at the layers then that’s the way it is! But whatever way it comes out it’s nature, it’s there, and she’s going to come out the way she is.

If you decide to put it on your to-read list, I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did :)
Profile Image for Lance Greenfield.
Author 132 books237 followers
September 2, 2016
Brilliant, inspirational and very funny!

There can be no argument that Richard P Feynman was a genius. He has been a hero of mine since I was very young, probably because my father also greatly admires him and spoke to me about Feynman and his unique personality from time to time.

There are some great stories in this book and they will make you laugh out loud. Feynman was always so full of life and he was curious about absolutely everything from a very early age. He would always want to know, "How does that work?" or "Why is that the way it is?" or "Is there another way to do that?" He would also latch onto something and decide that he wanted to do it, and to do it really well. For example, witnessing the bongo-playing in Brazil inspired him to learn to play like that and not like some studio-taught purist. He achieved it through dedication to his objective and sheer passion.

What made Feynman a genius? Well, there were lots of factors that contributed to his status, many of them discussed in other reviews of this book, but, my reason for putting him into that classification was that he was capable of explaining the most complex of matters to a five-year-old. That is TRUE genius.

I have read this book many times. It is a short book and will remain amongst my collection until the day that I die. If you haven't read it already, you should. You really need to read this book. I can guarantee that it will change at least one aspect of your life!
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