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Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

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4.15  ·  Rating details ·  18,277 ratings  ·  417 reviews
An illuminating portrayal of Richard Feynman—a giant of twentieth century physics—from his childhood tinkering with radios, to his vital work on the Manhattan Project and beyond

Raised in Depression-era Rockaway Beach, physicist Richard Feynman was irreverent, eccentric, and childishly enthusiastic—a new kind of scientist in a field that was in its infancy. His quick master
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Paperback, 531 pages
Published November 2nd 1993 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1992)
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Richard W. Eaton Yes but not unobtainable for someone with a science background or interest in physics.

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4.15  · 
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 ·  18,277 ratings  ·  417 reviews


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Darwin8u
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."
- Richard Feynman

description

"Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it."
- Richard Feynman

description

Feynman was lucky in three ways. First, the guy was born with a brain that somehow gave him access to problems with a speed and a dexterity that seemed magical to his peers, and his peers are people that already often stretched the capacity for knowledge and intelligence. Seco
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Robert Bryce
Mar 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I recently finished reading Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, by James Gleick. I’m a big fan of Gleick’s. His book on Isaac Newton was brilliant. And in this bio of Feynman, who was one of the midwives of the atomic bomb, Gleick illustrates just how important Feynman’s thinking has been to our modern understanding of physics, and therefore, of energy. Feynman grappled with the big questions about matter, science, and the quest for human knowledge and understanding. One of my favor ...more
Josh Friedlander
Gleick is a thorough, intelligent science writer able to give over complex ideas without sacrificing too much depth. He still lost me with some of the particle physics stuff.

Feynman started his academic career as a precocious math undergrad at Princeton, and went to the pinnacle of modern science, first at the Manhattan Project and later designing a daunting freshman physics curriculum at CalTech later published as "Six Easy Pieces". His career neatly parallels the modern perception of science:
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Carl Zimmer
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I do not do well with audiobooks. I quickly drift away to thoughts about other things. When I come back to the audiobook, I usually have no idea what's going on. I recently launched into Genius, James Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman, and this experience has been surprisingly different. I have immensely enjoyed having his words poured into my ears. I suspect it has to do with the gorgeous style and structure of Gleick's writing here. He clearly has amassed a staggering amount of vivid detai ...more
Max
Oct 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
Gleick portrays Feynman as an irreverent spirit and productive scientist who deeply influenced his generation of physicists. A Nobel Prize winner, Feynman’s contribution to physics was more about developing original techniques that clarified complex problems than any singular discovery. As we follow Feynman’s life we learn how particle physics and its community evolved in the mid twentieth century from the formulation of quantum mechanics to the standard model. We witness developments in nuclear ...more
Arjun
Oct 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fantastic bio of Feynman, and likely the best (in the same vein as Isaacson's takes on Einstein or Jobs) that we'll see.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in the nature of science during Feynman's rise — a period where quantum mechanics was very much developing and characters like Feynman were radically unorthodox.

Hearing Feynman's story is truly inspirational and makes you want to go out and discover things.
Bob
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book made me cry. Weird, maybe, but true. In Gleick's portrayal of the true genius of Feynman, as well as some of his other contemporary genius physicists.

What made me cry? Reading it was a fundamentally humbling experience. These people are SMART! And not smart like most smart folks--not at all. Growing up, I always had the feeling that, given the time and effort to study something, that I was capable of learning anything. Obviously, one cannot learn everything, but I never, until this bo
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Hadrian
Mar 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very impressive biography of Feynman. Extremely interesting book - although with Feynman's life, it isn't too hard to make an interesting story out of it. Good balance of lucid scientific explanations and biographical narrative.
Jean
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I heard Feynman speak a number of times at conferences in the 1970’s. He was a good speaker. I chose this biography as I wanted to know more about this famous professor. Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was a genius in mathematical physics. He was called “the most original mind of his generation.” Quantum electrodynamics (QED) was developed into an effective theory in 1948 independently by Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Shinichiro Tomona Ga. In 1965 the three shared the Nobel Prize for the theory.

The
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Jeremy
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone, but especially if you have interest in science or physics
A book that really re-awakened my inner science and math geek. In addition it introduced me to Feynman. I'm sure his name came up back in classes I took, but there is so much here that you'd never get from a one-liner in a textbook. A very interesting character.

By funny happenstance, I read this right before reading Cosmic Banditos by Weisbecker. Cosmic coincidence?

-Jeremy
Thorn
May 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
doesn't really add anything to "surely you're joking" and "what do you care what other people think?" that we couldn't live without. it was interesting, but most of the same information is available in more-engaging form elsewhere.
William Herschel
This biography puts Feynman in a more balanced, neutral light for me. When reading his memoir(s) you only get a glimpse and rather slanted presentation if you are really wanting to learn about Richard Feynman.

This book is really heavy on his scientific endeavors, which shouldn't be surprising. Despite this the text is very readable and engaging, even for those less scientifically inclined.

In my review of Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! I mentioned how much I thought I related to him. Well, if
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Greg Brozeit
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, science
I doubt I've ever read a longer book. The text was only 440 pages, but I found that I re-read (and re-re and re-re-re-read) a number of sections because the physics described was very deep and complex, especially for a layperson. But I feel I have a better understanding of the significant advances in physics in the 20th century as seen through the lens of Feynmman's intellect, methods and, as the title so ably states, genius. Although I still don't have a deep knowledge of concepts like quantum ...more
Daniel
Jan 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I learned about Feynman as a teen, when I happened across an interview with him on tv. His character and intellect fascinated me, and years later I decided to learn more about him.

Gleick covers Feynman's entire life in this biography. His prose is good, and he maintains a pleasing balance of anecdote and historical fact. Feynman had a large, vital personality, and Gleick is able to convey this without parroting the tone and content that Feynman uses in his autobiographical work. I've always been
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Mike
Aug 26, 2007 rated it it was ok
Big disappointment. Coming off of American Prometheus, the fantastic biography of Robert Oppenheimer, and having read a book or two of Gleick's earlier stuff, I was surprised that I couldn't even finish the damned thing. Tossed it into my donation pile a hundred pages in.
Javier Santaolalla
May 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
Anodino. Imposible de acabar. De los pocos que he tenido que dejar a medias.
Mike
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I remember hearing about Feynman during the aftermath of the Columbia Space Shuttle explosion. I finally got around to reading about him and what a Brainiac this guy was. A certifiable genius. Gleick makes science and quatum mechancis readable, kind of. There is no way I could follow the discussion when he got deep in the math but, thankfully, much of the book is written so my poor brain could follow. I liked his description of how young Feynman played around as a kid, luckily he had tolerant pa ...more
Duke L
Sep 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: want-more-like
I went into this book idolizing Feynman. But I finished it thinking that he was an asshole who got excused for his behavior by possessing high intelligence. I used to think that Feynman was a fun, eccentric, bongo-playing scientist who wooed women. Now I know that he was one of the original douchebag Pick Up artists and gave no regard for the feelings of others.

He also wasn't a very good scientist. This revelation, not expressly said in the book, was a bit upsetting to me. He was an awful scient
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Gwern
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A solid biography, though I don't have anything in particular to say about it. It throws in all the classic anecdotes and quotes you expect (which are more than worth their weight in gold - certainly, the price of admission) doesn't try to whitewash Feynman despite the temptation to hero-worship, and includes some critical examination, does at least try to explain all the physics which earned Feynman his prestige, etc. It's a well-regarded widely-read biography on an excellent subject which I ha ...more
Davidkantor
Dec 16, 2014 rated it liked it
The book was a technical tour de force in the way it attempted to bring extremely esoteric and non intuitive concepts of small scale physics into a popular biography in such detail that it becomes possible to glimpse the nature of Feynman's genius rather than just be told about it. That the physical explanations are dense and complex, and probably only partially grasped by the average reader, including your humble correspondent, is hardly The author's fault.

A well written and ultimately humbling
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Tatiana
Aug 14, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I thought this biography sucked. Though he may have had his facts exactly right, he missed the whole spirit of what made Feynman cool. I don't recommend it. I was very disappointed, too, because he did such a great job with the Chaos book.
Eva
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Five stars if you like Feynman, four stars for everyone else :)

“Half genius and half buffoon,” Freeman Dyson, himself a rising prodigy, wrote his parents back in England. - 55


Some of them, though never Feynman, put their faith in Werner Heisenberg’s wistful dictum, “The equation knows best.” - 80


(when published, Schwinger’s work would violate the Physical Review’s guidelines limiting the sprawl of equations across the width of the page) - 92


“It was a unifying principle that would either explain
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Joel
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Missing a bit of the magic of Feynman's own "autobiography", but fills in a lot of the factual information missing from those books and Feynman's interviews and lectures. It's best read as a companion to all the other material available on Feynman. Gleick does an impressive job presenting the science and philosophy of Feynman.

I'm also listening to Isaacson's book 'Einstein' now and I see so many similarities between the two characters: their skepticism of the scientific establishment; their desi
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Du Nguyen
After reading Chaos, also by James Gleick, (see my review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) I was curious whether Genius was better written than what I thought of Chaos. Sadly it wasn't.
Like in Chaos, I didn't like the way Gleick writes. It's simply too unfocused on the main topic. In Chaos, it seemed more like a collection of stories and biographies and in Genius, it seems like Gleick wasn't interested at all in Feynmann. The book starts off with the events straight after the con
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Nik Grant
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
A bit of a long book for me, over 500 pages. I have a bad habit of reading several books at once and thus progress slowly or not at all. So far, 2/5ths through!

Richard Feynman is a colorful character, and often this book brings me inside the little episodes that gave Feynman his reputation, leaving me awestruck and wishing I had known about Feynman sooner. Well, I read "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman," ages ago, but I wish I knew about him at the time he was in High School, failing in some su
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Ryan Harvey
Jan 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book. I have liked other books by the author, and after reading "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!" I consider Richard Feynman a personal hero.

But ultimately I don't feel that this book did him justice, at least to my eyes as a non-physicist lay reader.

This quote, about Feynman, appears near the end of the book: "They knew they had a remarkable central figure, a scientist who prided himself not on his achievements in science—these remained deep in the background—bu
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Bob Nichols
Gleick does a good job picturing Feynman, the person, and it's a good antidote to the somewhat disappointing "Surely You're Joking" Feynman's autobiography. Gleick shows a man deadly serious about his work, with little tolerance for group think, pomp and pretension. He pronounced potpourri "pot por eye" and didn't seem to care. Feynman's passion for life is better portrayed by Gleick than by Feynman in his autobiography. There are surprisingly many videos on the internet of Feynman giving lectur ...more
Brian
Dec 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I felt the author James Gleick did a reasonably good job of capturing exactly what the title states - Feynman's life and science. The earlier part of Feynman's life was the more interesting part (growing up in Rockaway, attending MIT as an undergraduate, his life as a graduate student at Princeton, helping with the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, and his time as a faculty member at Cornell). His time at Cal Tech was less interesting and seemingly less productive. I understood Feynman's lack of ...more
William March
May 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My first introduction to Richard Feynman was his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? I enjoyed the quirky man who was always questioning and looking at things in a different way than other people but James Gleick took my understand of Feynman, his life, his brilliance, his viewpoints, and his contributions to science to a whole new level. The biography is a massive amount of information about Feynman but it also contains a great deal about the history and course of quantum physics thr ...more
David Cerruti
Feb 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Genius is up there with Gleick’s best work, Chaos and The Information, and clearly better than the disappointing Faster. There isn’t much new material here, and the Los Alamos days were only briefly covered. Feynman’s own writings, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? , his Lectures on Physics, and his talk Los Alamos From Below (available on audio) give plenty of background.

The special thing Gleick gives is context. In particular, Feynman’s interact
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Science Book Club: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman 6 19 Apr 07, 2019 11:42AM  
Science and Inquiry: February 2019 - Genius 11 69 Feb 08, 2019 10:42AM  
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James Gleick (born August 1, 1954) is an American author, journalist, and biographer, whose books explore the cultural ramifications of science and technology. Three of these books have been Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists, and they have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Born in New York City, USA, Gleick attended Harvard College, graduating in 1976 with a degree in
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“Maybe that’s why young people make success. They don’t know enough. Because when you know enough it’s obvious that every idea that you have is no good.” 10 likes
“I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here and there.” 4 likes
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