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5.0 out of 5 stars THOUGHT PROVOKING AND DIFFICULT, 28 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Genius: Richard Feynman and Modern Physics (Paperback)
This is a 438 page, seriously researched, biography of Richard Feynman (1918-1988) the theoretical physicist famous mainly for work on quantum electrodynamics. I recommend it with the proviso it's difficult to understand particle physics. I didn't find it easy to understand the path integral formulation of quantum physics or Feynman diagrams, and my enjoyment came from getting a feel for Feynman's life and how he worked.

The book is chronological, focussed on his professional rather than personal life, ... growing up in Far Rockaway (western Long Island), education at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), graduate study and a Ph.D. (maths and physics) at Princeton. Feynman was involved, at a junior level, developing the nuclear bomb at Los Alamos. He went to Cornell (1945-1950) and Caltech (California Institute of Technology) for the rest of his career, winning the Nobel Prize in 1965. Always he showed a heavy concentration on maths and physics and a disregard of high culture.

The author talks about how Feynman approached problems (preferring to encounter a problem then independently work out it's solution), that he often didn't read the literature, that he searched (not so much necessarily for the deep truth about reality as) for a practical understanding - rules or algorithms -that gives the right answers. Gleick talks at length about the nature of scientific progress and genius. Feynman seems to have understood exactly what he was doing (studying a problem, guessing a solution that had testable implications ... and having it tested). His approach was intuitive and, reliant on the unconscious, inherently fast and difficult to explain. Keynes, writing about Newton, said Newton had terrific muscles of intuition that could hold a problem in the mind's-eye until it yielded up it's secrets. Feynman had something similar, a dogged, practical, single-minded intuition, coming at problems from unusual perspectives.
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