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My guess is he probably wasn't whenever anyone was actually saying or thinking that.

Book #64: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
Author: Richard P. Feynman
Provenance: Borrowed from my dad

I can't very well say when the first time I heard about Richard Feynman was. He's long been a hero of my father's, and he'd show up in unexpected conversations occasionally. I think I found this a bit interesting when I was a kid - why does he keep cropping up? I've heard and read more about him since then, and I read James Gleick's biography of him when I was in Japan, but somehow, despite seeing this book on our shelves every day for years growing up, I never actually gave it a try until recently. And it's definitely an interesting read, both for what's on the page, and what's not.

This is sort of a biography of Feynman's life, pieced together from stories he told a friend of his, and one imagines with a final okay from Feynman (since his name's on the book, after all). It covers a lot of his life, with the different stories ranging from when he was a kid through being a student at MIT and Princeton, his time on the Manhattan project, up through being a renowned professor. There's a range in the scope of the stories, from short little anecdotes through long pieces about, say, learning to pick locks, or sensory deprivation, or tea-time at Princeton. It actually makes for an easy read this way; since the stories are all basically standalones, you can jump around the book based on how much time you have to read. It helps to have a little idea about his life ahead of time if you're going to do that, but it's doable without that knowledge, I think.

So the subtitle for this book is "adventures of a curious character," and that really is what you're getting. Feynman clearly comes through as brash, fiercely intelligent, not taking anybody's word just on authority, trying out new things (art, drumming, lockpicking, etc) because they seem interesting - and then following through and trying to achieve the best he can with it, and invested in seeing things through to their complete and logical end. He has a sense of marveling at ways of doing things that get out wrong or incoherent results. It's an approach to life that certainly makes for a rich and diverse set of experiences, and the writing, while simple enough, gives you a real sense of who he was. It won't win any prizes for prose, but he wouldn't want those, anyway. And it still is engrossing and often very humorous.

It's notable, as well, that there's very little science in here, and that you don't get a sense of how harsh he could be (beyond the fact that he very clearly doesn't suffer fools gladly, and that he says often in the earlier studies that had it happened to him now, he would have told the person off / did what he wanted). My dad says he was very invested in having everyone know he was a wild and crazy guy, and told the book that way. The book I read after this (by Herman Wouk; I'll review it next) gave more of the harder side. But the wonderful thing about this book is that it shows you what it really means to be curious and dedicated, to have a desire to really try a lot of things and try to see the heart of them. That's something to learn from, one way or the other, and for someone who was also a great teacher, one might imagine that was part of the purpose, too. It's a fun read to have around, I'd think, for inspirational, amusing refreshment. Not perfect, but then, it definitely held my interest well.

Next up: Yeah, the Language God Speaks. Since I said already.

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