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Richard Feynman: A Life in Science Paperback – Jul 1998


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Product details

  • Paperback: 301 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin USA (P) (July 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452276314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452276314
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 2 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,883,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. F. Stevens HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 3 Oct. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Richard Feynman is one of my heroes, and the Gribbins have produced an excellent biography detailing his life and work.

A Nobel Prize winning physicist, he was renowned for his exceptionally deep understanding of science and the ability to cut through to the essential core of any problem, and then explain it so the dimmest of people could comprehend. For example it was he who deduced why the Challenger shuttle disaster happened, and then was able to give a simple and totally convincing demonstration at the meeting.

But more than this, he was a popular, humorous and warm-hearted family man, and a long serving academic who set the benchmark on the best methods for teaching his students. Long after his untimely death from cancer, books about his popular lectures and tapes of them are still used as examples of good technique, and students still gain inspiration from them. His published work was always a model of clarity, and always aimed correctly at his intended audience. I only wish he had taught me my Physics.

This book serves far better than I can to show what a brilliant man he was, and the Gribbins research seems exhaustive. I have read a couple of others, but this one seems to be the most comprehensive, and has excellent references and index.

Some other books by or about Feynman worth reading are
Surely You're Joking, Mr.Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character
What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character
'Most of the Good Stuff': Memories of Richard Feynman
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Purchased an ex-library book from the USA via Amazon. Somehow this is a more difficult book to get hold of compared to other biographies but is a must for anyone with an interest in the life and work of Feynman, co-written by John Gribbin who is a fine science writer.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. P. Sedgwick VINE VOICE on 11 Sept. 2004
Format: Paperback
This book covers Feynman's life, as well as his many achievements in physics, in a readable manner. What really comes over is Feynman's love of science, his deep understanding of the underlying concepts, and his desire to communicate that knowledge to others - without any personal gain in terms of fame or material goods.
This book also goes some way to exploring the subject of Feynman the man, as well as the scientist, covering areas like the death of his first wife, his many relationships, his childhood and his family.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
an amateurish biography rehashing old topics 10 Nov. 1997
By David Fry - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I love anything Feynman, like a great many people out there, but I found this book to be depressingly amateurish. The authors are overly infatuated with their subject and seem intent on breathlessly convincing us how wonderful Feynman was, as if we couldn't figure it out for ourselves.
To me, the most annoying feature of the book was the endless direct quotes from other Feynman books. Just what service is this book providing?
I wouldn't be so harsh if it weren't for the fact that Glieck's "Genius" has already covered all of the topics presented here, and with much more clarity and detail. I have trouble justifying why another biography was necessary. Without "Genius," this book would probably be more palatable.
The great thing that "Genius" did that this book never attempts, is to make Feynman human. Yes he was brilliant, yes he was funny, yes he was an incredible teacher. But he had a dark side as well, and "Genius" explores that without flinching.
In the end, I'd recommend passing this one up and getting "Genius".
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A thoroughly enjoyable introduction to Feynman 8 Aug. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I can't remember ever reading a biography quite as enjoyable. The authors are to be congratulated for their perfect blend of scientific and personal anecdotes. You won't find any of Feynman's lectures here, but you will come to understand why Feynman is so revered. The author's write, "Does the world really need another book about Richard Feynman? We think so, or we wouldn't have written it." I agree with them, and I'm sure you will too. A wonderful book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Quantum Electrogenius 19 July 2006
By doomsdayer520 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There have been multiple biographies and compendiums honoring the lovable supergenius Richard Feynman, and his mindboggling accomplishments. This one is mostly a collection of snippets and anecdotes from previous books, but it probably gives the most concise and comprehensive coverage of Feynman's life and his vast influence on science. Granted, this particular bio does have a few flaws, especially in its rather breathless idolization of Feynman and his brilliance, to the point where the reader wonders if the gentleman had any flaws at all. Also, this book keeps trying to glamorize how approachable and lovably eccentric Feynman was, but these aspects of his personality don't really come through here, as John Gribbin can't quite make Feynman's hobbies like playing drums, or his love of teaching and reaching out to the masses, seem that amazing. But in any case, this is still a perfectly enjoyable biography because Feynman's brilliance in physics, and all the other intellectual endeavors he tackled, really does shine through. Gribbin also fleshes things out with pretty good coverage of Feynman's extensive contributions to physics, such as almost single-handedly inventing quantum electrodynamics, with the necessary background knowledge into modern and historical science. Despite a few problems with the structure of the biography, the person it's about really makes an impact with the reader. That can't be said about too many Nobel-winning eccentric genius physicists. [~doomsdayer520~]
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Problematic but readable 3 Nov. 1997
By Lee Gruenfeld - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
(...Part Two:)
This brings us to the Gribbin's rationale for writing yet "another book about Richard Feynman." Thing is, Feynman had one whale of a good time doing physics. He did it because it was fun, and when it wasn't fun, he didn't do it, instead dabbling in fields as diverse as biology, computing and bongo drumming. He was also, hands down, the finest teacher of physics who ever lived. As a first-year physics undergraduate myself, my sharpest memory before I left that field was of sitting alone in dreary, windowless room on the second floor of the physics building and popping in a videocassette of something called The Feynman Lectures. I slumped down in the chair, prepared to be bored into madness, doing this only because a good friend asked me to.
When the tape ended about an hour later, I blinked as I came out of a trance and finally brought my jaw back up, and realized that I had been in the presence of greatness. It was a performance, not a lesson, an exposition of physical principles delivered by a guy so nutso in love with the topic that oftentimes his voice choked with barely-repressed laughter. He had a clarity of style so compelling you couldn't resist absorbing the knowledge if you tried. The Lectures have since become classics, along with written compilations of other talks that have gone on to become best-selling books.
The Gribbins set themselves the task of bringing out these other sides of Richard Feynman, and in that sense they succeed only barely. First, there is really nothing new in this book that hasn't been dealt with elsewhere, and better, most notably by James Gleick in his book, Genius.
Second, while a great of simplification is absolutely necessary to convey some sense of the topic without overwhelming the novice, there are many statements in this book that are unnecessarily absolute, definitive and downright misleading. Telling us that QED explains "everything there is to explain about interactions involving electrons and photons [and] everything there is to explain about weak interactions" is inappropriate, giving us the impression that, on the day QED was published, all research in this area came to a screeching halt.
Third, and perhaps most unforgivably, you quickly come to realize that this book is less a careful examination of a man's life and work than it is a fawning, sycophantic adoration that attempts to elevate a mere mortal into the status of near-deity. This completely non-critical worship (of a man neither of the Gribbins ever met) becomes wearing and tedious after a while, especially when the authors provide testimonials from other notable scientists that add nothing of substance to the idolization, but seem to be some kind of attempt to externally validate their opinions, as though they themselves may have realized they were overdoing it and brought in evidence to prove to us they weren't kidding.
And just when we think we've had about enough of that, they crank it up another notch, this time in the form of a competition to see who among the elites of physics was the very best, starting on page 189. We learn that Feynman made more major contributions in a greater number of decades than any other physicist, including Einstein. We learn that, had the Nobel committee had their heads screwed on correctly, Feynman would rightfully have won three prizes, not just one. And just in case the clearly superior box score is still not evident, we learn that Murray Gell-Mann, the brilliant Nobelist who shared a secretary with Feynman at Caltech, was really a somewhat nasty sonofagun who was more interested in looking smart than being smart and, if you read between the lines, probably didn't really deserve his own Nobel prize.
Well, then: why do I think you should read this book? Because I feel that anything that has an outside chance of getting nonscientists to think about the quantum world is worth pursuing.
When I was in elementary school, we had a series of about a hundred biographies of well-known Americans: Knute Rockne, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Glenn Cunningham, etc. Geared for kids, these books were breezy, easy editions that read more like public relations releases than serious studies of people's lives. But we read them and, in many cases, they stuck with us when we got older and spurred us on to read more serious works about these people.
Richard Feynman - A Life in Science reads a lot like those books. I've read nearly all of John Gribbin's books on physics and he is the John Grisham of the field, coincidence of name notwithstanding. The best way for the amateur to come to the physics is through the people who made the physics, and the Gribbins do a reasonably good job of interweaving the two. There is a great deal of oversimplification of the science, but the fact is that there is no other way to do it and keep the difficult mathematics out of it. So, in the sense of introducing you to an extraordinary character (when Feynman got bored during his work on the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II, he cracked top-security safes just for laughs), and extraordinary science, the book has merit, and won't tax your brain too much.
However, if you're willing to tax your brain just a wee bit more, here's a much better idea: Read Genius by James Gleick, and In Search of Schroedinger's Cat by John Gribbin. The former is the best yet look at Feynman's work and life, and the latter may be the best single-book introduction to quantum physics for "the average Joe" you're likely to come across. My criticism of A Life in Science aside, perhaps only Isaac Asimov rivals Gribbin in his ability to translate the most arcane of scientific theories into breezy readabilty for popular consumption.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Bongo Playin' Physicist 1 April 2005
By Ellen Barratt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book, written by John and Mary Gribbin, gives a great insight into the life of a truly amazing genius who was told the importance of understanding the way things work from childhood. Melville Feynman, Richard Feynman's father, raised his son to be a scientist and succeeded. Richard was inquisitive throughout his life. It is clear that his curiosity led him to work on solving problems that were new to him, even if they had been solved before. Feynman was not a social outcast like many scientists are believed to be, and the Gribbins weave in some interesting personal stories about Feynman. Richard Feynman had a wonderful life from the standpoint that everything in his scientific life worked out well, and he rarely seemed to have any major obstacles in his work. The topics that Feynman studied were difficult to understand and may be impossible to understand without having him to explain. The Gribbins do an excellent job of explaining the difficult and sometimes abstract things that Feynman worked on or discovered. Feynman had a knack for problem solving ever since he was young and magically (by thinking) could fix radios. It is clear that Feynman enjoyed the area of study he was in, and "he never knew when he was working and when he was playing" (p 250). His sister Joan said of him. Feynman did enjoy what he did and was always ready for a challenge either from a teacher or from a colleague that was stuck. Feynman lived a very interesting life and not only worked on physics but took up painting, traveling, and playing the bongos. The renown of Feynman was amazing; he knew people from all over the world that were amazing and unique. The life of this man was full of incredible discoveries that continued through his old age. Feynman was thankful for every day he had, especially after he was diagnosed with cancer. Feynman's last words were, "This dying is boring" (p 258). He loved life, and he knew his legacy would continue saying, "I've kind of spread me around all over the place. So I'm probably not going to go away when I'm dead!" (p 258). Feynman was right about his legacy because he contributed so greatly to science and society.
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