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Leighton: Tuva or Bust - Richard Feynamn'S Last Journey Hardcover – 18 Jun 1991
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Richard Feynman, brilliant physicist and inspirational teacher, wasn't much for coats and ties. He lived a life that the adjective "bohemian" doesn't begin to cover, scripting percussion scores for avant-garde ballet troupes, musing over life's imponderables, and delighting and annoying his many friends with odd-duck questions--all the while teaching generations of students at CalTech.
Always adventurous, Feynman was also a careful planner, recounts his friend and fellow drummer Ralph Leighton in this affectionate memoir. When a chance remark happened to dislodge a long-dormant memory of a faraway Siberian land called Tannu-Tuva, Feynman and Leighton set about scheming to get there--a programme that included learning the little-described Tuvan language, picking up the rudiments of throat singing, and reading the scattered, hard-to-find literature concerning a place that, in Feynman's fond view, was as close to paradise as the earth contained. It also involved corresponding with scholars in what was still the Soviet Union, wrangling with bureaucrats to secure the necessary papers--and all for the sake of seeing a country that had to be interesting, Feynman insisted, just because its capital, Kyzyl, had such an odd spelling.
These picaresque armchair adventures make up the bulk of Tuva or Bust, an unconventional mix of travelogue and scientific biography that's a pleasure to read at every turn. The book yields a memorable picture of Richard Feynman--who did not live to see Tuva, but whose memory is honoured there today, thanks to Leighton's refusal to abandon their shared dream. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Ralph Leighton, Richard Feynman's great friend and collaborator, now lives in northern California. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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In this book, Ralph Leighton tells the story of how he and Richard got hooked on a little country called Tannu Tuva, a Soviet republic nestled neatly between Mongolia and Siberia (for those who know Dick Feynman from other books, the reason is suitably surreal!). This was in the mid-80s, when Americans showing a keen interest in Soviet culture were not encouraged!
It's a light read - very little science is mentioned - but it's also quite fascinating in the extra dimension it adds to Feynman's irrepressible character, and in the ingenious ways Ralph and Dick find to circumvent the incredibly bureaucratic travel policies (both of America and Russia!). Ralph comes up with a foolproof plan to get them to Tuva (which IS ingenious), but unfortunately, this only serves to demonstrate how some people who are capable of incredibly complex reasoning processes are totally flummoxed when it comes to things like bureaucracy and politics - which patently don't respond to reasoning!
The book is very much 'In the spirit of Feynman', rather than 'About Feynman' - he only crops up in a few places himself - but that pretty much sums it up. It's a fitting final chapter in the life story of Richard Feynman, typified by a desire to discover new things - whether that be a new law governing subatomic particles, a new way of cracking safes, or a new country he'd known nothing about previously!
If you're a fan of Feynman (and if you read my other reviews, you'll know I am), then this is a fitting and poignant final tale.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Unfortunately, Tuva or Bust! is written from RL's point of view, not Feynman's. I guess there was not enough direct involvement by Feynman to support writing in Feynman's words. Or maybe RL just wanted to write from his own point of view for a change. Just be aware, this is more a Leighton book than a Feynman book.
The book and other reviewers write about the journey being greater than the destination, which I completely understand. But, word-for-word, this book is about RL's journey with Feynman checking in from time to time.
That said, I think it is still very much worth reading. It is a facinating story of a facinating time in international affairs, and for the die-hard Feynman buff, there is plenty of new information and trivia. Who would have expected a Feynman connection to Alan Alda?
I never did understand if he was able to hear the Tuvan throatsingers live. Was it after his death that Ralph Leighton connected with Kongar-ol Ondar?
Great adventure and during the Cold War years--I was a teen in the 60's--I remember some of that.