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Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman Hardcover – 1992

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 532 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books; First Edition edition (1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679408363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679408369
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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the book is a moving, beautifully written literate and perceptive account of Feynman's life. (NATURE)

I came away from Genius feeling that I knew a lot more about Feynman and his play in 20th century science. (SUNDAY TIMES)

Gleick's narrative, consistently measured and elegant is a formidable work of scientific biography. (NEW STATESMEN)

thoughtful and fascinating. (THE LITERARY REVIEW) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

The life of Richard Feynman and the story of modern physics itself. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 July 1998
Format: Paperback
James Gleick's life of Feynman comes highly recommended to anyone concerned with the scholarship of safe-cracking , impromptu Brazilian samba ensembles and the fineries of quantum electrodynamics . Space shuttle design and the Manhattan Project are also included , so that no critic can claim in any seriousness that Feynman lacked balanced life-experience. This book is highly and competently researched ( 70-odd pages devoted to notes , acknowledgements and bibliography ) but it is no mere archive - there is a sense of presence in Gleick's narrative which , at times , borders on the voyeuristic (see , for example , the chapters detailing the correspondence between Feynman and his first wife Arline while he , shrouded in systematic censorship and effectively isolated , worked on the Bomb and she died slowly of consumption.) His account of Feynman's physics is similarly uncanny, making esoteric and , dare I say it , deep , theoretical material accessible to non-specialists . Perhaps this success in transmitting his ideas in a second-hand fashion is due to some aspect of the nature of Feynman's thinking - he was what might be called a ' freehand ' theoretician , prepared to step outside the realm of the accepted processes in order to see new ways of achieving old results , and thus to reconfigure the family-tree of physics and open new branches of inquiry . His closest rival for much of his career , Julian Schwinger , also comes across as his antithesis - Gleick , in any case , would have us believe in two incompatible minds , in Feynman the intuitive doodler and Schwinger the rigorous draftsman , both working to slice the same pie but with different mental utensils , one with a machete and the other with a laser .Read more ›
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Steven Unwin on 14 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a fantastic book for those interested in physics and the process of change, and an insightful biography of a great scientist.

Richard Feynman was a talented physicist, winner of the Nobel Prize and major contributor to our understanding of particle physics. The term `genius' is often used cheaply, and although Feynman would have declined the description, having read this account it is difficult to argue that he was not fully deserving of the title.

I first became aware of Richard Feynman through quotations credited to him, and was intrigued to find out more about the man behind the ideas. This book deals with his life and achievements and as much of this was directed at the hidden and mysterious world and mathematics that define the inner working of atoms, you might expect a difficult read. Have no fear. James Gleick has done a brilliant job of avoiding the mathematics whilst successfully conveying the ideas that Feynman spent a lifetime working on, without belittling them through oversimplification. Instead he succeeds in graphically illuminating the world of quantum physics as a truly remarkable one where particles exist for fractions of a billionth of a second, appear capable of travelling back in time, and provide the key to unlock our understanding of the universe, gravity and time itself.

`I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there.'
Richard Feynman.

That James Gleick is able to graphically convey the work of a genius operating in this field is truly fitting since the hallmark of Feynman's work was a single minded focus on creating and sharing understanding, to create penny dropping moments of revelation, no matter how complex the underlying concepts.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Oxonandrew on 24 Aug. 2002
Format: Paperback
I began the book with Feynman as a god-like figure who could do no wrong and after reading the book I found I was mostly right. However, I did appreciate the author's effort to make him human, he had his 'faults' and he was to some extent a man of his time (when it came to his personal life (ie., women)). But when it came to his science, and in particular his mind, the man is a true Genius. His mind works with such clarity and foresight, it's truely amazing. The only part of the book I found not to my liking, was that the author feels the need to explain the ins and outs of some fairly complex physics, which I was not prepared to try to understand. I can only begin to imagine how complex that field is if the version 'we' were given in the book was the very watered-down version of the field. You dont need to understand quantum physics to be amazed by Feynman. In all, it was an insightful book and well worth the time!
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Mar. 2004
Format: Paperback
For all of us who have studied theoretical physics, Richard Feynman was a cult figure - the magical scientist who brought a breath of fresh air into physics with his innovative style, and irrepressible personality.
Feynman may or may not have been a genius (the description is so difficult). Michael Berry (as of Berry's phase in quantum mechanics) once wrote in a review in Physics World that Feynman was not a physicist of the first rank - which Berry reserved for figures like Einstien and Dirac. That may well be true in a more dispassionate assessment of Feynman. However, what is impossible to deny is that he was one of the most innovative and creative scientists of his age, with a lightning quick mind who left his peers in no doubt that he was a genius. He certainly had the ability of genius - to see patterns and simplicity where others saw just complexity. It takes a deeply creative mind to ascribe pattern and simplicity to nature. Nature does not reveal her secrets easily to lesser mortals (now is that a Feynman quote?).
Feynman the genius needed a genius of a biographer - one who could truly understand the complex melody that was the entirety of the man. Richard Feynman may have marched to the beat of a different drum, as Julian Schwinger so eleganly put it, but it needed another genius to explain and critique the beats, rythms and melodies the great scientist heard. Gleick has made this beat and rythm, the entire symphony if you will, available to the rest of us. This must be one of the most incisive biographies ever written.
Not only was Feynman a genius - I suspect Gleick is as well.
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