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Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: Letters of Richard P. Feynman

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  2,398 ratings  ·  138 reviews
"One of the towering figures of twentieth-century science, Richard Feynman possessed a curiosity that was the stuff of legend. Even before he won the Nobel Prize in 1965, his unorthodox and spellbinding lectures on physics secured his reputation amongst students and seekers around the world. It was his outsized love for life, however, that earned him the status of an Ameri ...more
cloth, 512 pages
Published April 5th 2005 by Basic Books (first published April 5th 2004)
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 ·  2,398 ratings  ·  138 reviews

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Nov 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
To my dearest R.P. Feynman:

Our love affair (read: my infatuation with you) started blooming years ago when I happened upon your lectures. Your wit, charm and intelligence was the triple combination that wooed me into bewilderment. For years I devoured anything I could find about you. I swooned over tales of your bongo skills. Your grace and humility when accepting the Nobel made my heart flutter. So when I came across your letters nothing could keep me from them. It has been a rare joy the past
A collection of letters by Richard Feynman, ranging from private things to his loved ones to tips and answers to fans and students from all over the world.

The part with his letters to his wife is extremely beautiful, and there is in particular one I'd like to share. Arline Feynman, the love of Richard's life, died of tuberculosis on the 11th of June 1945. Roughly one year and a half later Richard wrote a letter to her, and sealed it. It was opened after his death in 1988. Here it is:

October 17
Jul 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is my favorite of all the various Feynman books, because it's not cluttered up with Feynman playing the lovable, picaresque, eccentric. Instead of the slightly buffoonish public persona (or "curious character") he (or his publishers) seemed to feel compelled to present in his various autobiographical writings, the letters speak for themselves. And, to my mind, the picture they paint is ultimately far more flattering than that which he himself tried to present.

Sure, there are lapses - he is
Jul 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
Yeah, sometimes Feynman's a cocky jerk, but aren't we all? These letters are just so darn lovely and human. For as many (often justified) snotty replies he gives, there are just as many instances of unexpectedness tenderness and support for people in the same quest to figure things out.

About a comment he made in the early '60s about the minds of women, he received loads of letters calling him sexist, an idiot, etc. When, in the more enlightened times of 1987, he was asked permission to reprint t
Mar 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Know those cheesy movie reviews that say "I laughed, I cried" and make you think that the reviewer never bothered to even watch the film? Yeah? Well, I actually did read this book. And it really did make me laugh. And it really did make me cry. And it really did teach me some physics and a few life lessons as well. The book covers about 50 years of Feynman's life from grad school through death via letters to and from him. It's a wonderful, compelling read and one that I'd recommend over and over ...more
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As the subtitle indicates, this is an anthology of Feynman's letters. This is one of the relatively few books that I have read based on a published review -- in this case, Freeman Dyson's review, anthologized in "Scientist as Rebel."

I started browsing in these a few nights ago, on the theory of "I'd just read a few". A few hours later, I realized three things. First, I was utterly absorbed. Second, Feynman had a wonderfully clever and crisp prose style. Third, he was impressively thoughtful, sen
Nick Black
Oct 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Very likely the finest book to emerge from the Feynman crap-publishing machine from which a public can't seem to buy enough (only QED The Strange Theory of Light could compare, and that's kind of a apples-and-oranges or, if you'll allow, baryons-and-leptons deal). An incredibly well-edited selection of great intimacy and scope, giving a much more insightful and indeed sympathetic look into the great man than his self-serving, posturing autobiographical releases. ...more
Aug 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, memoir
I think that this collection of letters has a lower ratio of interesting or funny stories to pages, than other Feynman memoirs or biographies. It also has significantly less science (very little, actually). I would recommend reading some of those first. What we do learn from the letters, however, is a humanizing portrait of Feynman, beyond his brash public persona and genius science. There are some great moments documented here. I also couldn't help but be impressed by Feynman's generosity, afte ...more
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very good, and likely the best I've read of/by/on Feynman. I've always felt that the Feynman depicted in Surely You're Joking and Gleick's Genius felt pained – maybe a bit largely than life, if you will. While it's perfectly understandable, the picture of a fun-loving, quirky, womanizing physicist always felt overly romanticized. Reading his unadulterated communication felt voyeuristic, but my model of Feyman evolved and felt altogether more humanistic.

An absolutely brilliant physicist and a ge
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I listened to this on cd. Professor Feynman had a fantastic sense of himself and his strengths, and weaknesses, and it is interesting to hear how he lived his life through his own words. The letters that he wrote, and were wrote to him, are well narrated and given a real life to them. It shows a man who knew exactly who he was and what honor, truth, and scientific research means without becoming egocentric or self-involved. Truly a fantastic audiobook and person.
Mar 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: life-of-the-mind
Feynman has become a cult figure for some, though I saw no evidence to support why this might have happened. The book was so thick, and he seemed so ordinary, I couldn't wrap my mind around the attraction.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jul 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I am addicted to Feynman. Everything about him, everything he writes, anything about his life its a total addiction! Can't get enough. Surely your Joking Mr. Feynman was still the best though.
Sarah Kelleher
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
What a cool dude. I happened upon this book on my dad's shelf and it gave me giggles and chuckles, And it made me cry big dripping tears that landed in fat globs on the page. Feynman was awesome.
Mar 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable (if reading someone else's letters is appropriate :) )
James Swenson
Nov 01, 2011 rated it liked it
As you can tell by the title, Perfectly Reasonable Deviations... is a collection of letters written by Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman. To me, it was intriguing, and there are letters here that would appeal to anyone, but I think you'd have to be (like me) a Feynman fan already, anxious to know everything about the man, to enjoy reading the book from cover to cover.

Anyone considering reading this book should first read Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Adventures of a Curious C
Anshul Thakur
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a collection of letters that were written to and by Richard Feynman, a great person, a Nobel laureate in Physics, a great iconoclast, and a beautiful, beautiful man. These letters span his lifetime, from his letters when he first left his parents to study at Princeton and MIT, to his love and wife Arline, and later to Gweneth among the many letters he wrote (and this surprises many that he did, and did so much).

His willingness and excitement to communicate the most complex of proble
Nov 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, audiobook
Well-organized and edited collection of letters, some to, most from Richard P. Feynman. Some of them are fascinating, some a bit dull, although which letters fall into which category probably depends on the reader. I most enjoyed the letters to his mother while in college; the congratulatory letters, and his responses, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize; his sharp responses to requests that he viewed as requiring him to violate his strongly-held principles (for example, asking him to attend a c ...more
Dec 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read very few books of letters, biographies, and autobiographies, so I'm very much in the early stages of calibrating my scales. This is a good book. Not every letter is scintillating or contains a gleaming gem. A minor few seem to be included only for completeness. I would have lost only a little, in one sense, by reading a booklet of the best ten or so.

However, there are certainly gems to be found, some of them very fine, others more like nice shells you find on a beach and then hang ont
This collection of letters has brought me to tears in two separate instances. Once out of sadness, and once out of joy.

The first instance was early in the book, when we are given insight into Richard Feynman's relationship with his first wife, Arlene, who for the adult part of their relationship was suffering from an, ultimately, fatal case of Tuberculosis. The letters to his wife were extremely touching, and outlined the great tragedy of it all.

The second instance was while I read the last pair
Priyanka -
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There is so much love,modesty,grace,intellect,humour,optimism,clarity of thoughts in Feynman's letters that you can simply admire and appreciate each of them.Some of them overwhelmed me and some of them kept me in awe.How wonderfully he would break difficult problems into small and comprehendible questions and answers.Feynman never failed to call himself a fool when he found out his mistake.The quest in him to find answers about the world about where we have come from is simply brilliant and pra ...more
Wit UnWit
Feb 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know who he was
what he did
which religion he professed
but i heard the man talk
and i was fascinated ever since!
i still remember his old face creased with lines
speaking of which
surely came by his constant excited expressions!
He obviously loved what he did
and moreover LOVED sharing it!
His excitement was Contagious!
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Some really nice moments in amongst this collection of letters to and from Feynman, particularly the ones where he talks about how you should go about doing science. The answer, apparently, is to do whatever the hell you want, and only what you want. Sweet! I'm in.
Ye Lin Aung
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2015
Only one word : beautiful. Reading the letter conversations between Dr.RPF and his family, friends, strangers, students etc from the beginning till the end makes me appreciate his effort, brilliance and sincere heart. Some letters are fun, some are a bit technical but still very enjoyable to read.
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
A brilliant perspective of one of the most popular person in the field of science. He had an appetite for life, an insatiable appetite for knowing things.All these is well shown through all the letters inside. You will know him better as you read all of them.
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
"Don't you have time to think?" is a much better title and the message is: "Don't pay attention to 'authorities'. Think for yourself.". Live long and prosper to Feynman's ideas and attitudes!
Bishop Adler
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Didn't want to read this at first because I assumed reading someone else's letters was kind of creepy, but I got the audio book for free and figured that the man has been dead for long enough to not matter. Anyways, this book is sort of like a companion to his autobiographical Surely You're Joking and What Do You Care, as it presents the same events from a closer perspective. Like the autobiographies it was a mix of really intriguing, funny, and the occasional sad story, however the Arlene lette ...more
Apr 23, 2020 rated it liked it
The first book by a Nobel Laureate that I read was Paul Samuelson's economics textbook. Over time, I recovered sufficiently to read other economics books by other Nobel awardees. All these were readable enough...researched, written, rewritten, edited, etc. to prepare them for public consumption. This collection of Richard Feynman's letters was my first foray into "real" science. (opened only because it was in my book club's batting order this year) My only knowledge of Feynman owed to watching t ...more
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biographyhistory
I'd already read a couple of other books about or by Feynman so I feel I didn't learn much new here.

A couple of things that were interesting/amusing:

(1) His persistent efforts to resign from the National Academy of Science.

(2) The amount of effort he put into corresponding with random strangers who mailed him.

But I think only a very dedicated Feynman-phile will find it worthwhile to read all the correspondence.

If it was me, I would have edited them down and only shown the ones that were really i
Adam Morva
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
In his past books I found Feynman's humor and character pleasant and funny, however, I couldn't enjoy this one.

Two important things:
1.) The book is not written by Richard
2.) It is a collection of Richard's mails curated and narrated by her daughter. You can read his correspondence with his mom, wives, colleagues, and strangers.

Nor the mails nor the narration were particularly interesting to me. In fact, I felt like a voyeour, or some tabloid reader. I did not find the aspects I liked in previous
Cullen Haynes
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the foremost scientific minds of the 20th century, Richard P. Feynman was as much an intellectual as he was a character.

He possessed a curiosity for life that was the stuff of legend. What made Feynman different was he wasn't afraid to challenge the status quo and ask 'Why?' and even more importantly 'Why not?'

Nobel prize-winning physicist, loving husband, father, enthusiastic bongo player, and may I add devilish trickster with a wicked sense of humour; this book containing selected lette
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Richard Phillips Feynman was an American physicist known for the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as work in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Pr ...more

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