Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun

Overview

"Glorious."—Wall Street Journal
Rescued from obscurity, Feynman's Lost Lecture is a blessing for all Feynman followers. Most know Richard Feynman for the hilarious anecdotes and exploits in his best-selling books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What DoYou Care What Other People Think? But not always obvious in those stories was his brilliance as a pure scientist—one of the century's greatest physicists. With this book and CD, we hear the voice of the great Feynman in all his ingenuity, insight, and acumen ...

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Overview

"Glorious."—Wall Street Journal
Rescued from obscurity, Feynman's Lost Lecture is a blessing for all Feynman followers. Most know Richard Feynman for the hilarious anecdotes and exploits in his best-selling books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What DoYou Care What Other People Think? But not always obvious in those stories was his brilliance as a pure scientist—one of the century's greatest physicists. With this book and CD, we hear the voice of the great Feynman in all his ingenuity, insight, and acumen for argument. This breathtaking lecture—"The Motion of the Planets Around the Sun"—uses nothing more advanced than high-school geometry to explain why the planets orbit the sun elliptically rather than in perfect circles, and conclusively demonstrates the astonishing fact that has mystified and intrigued thinkers since Newton: Nature obeys mathematics. David and Judith Goodstein give us a beautifully written short memoir of life with Feynman, provide meticulous commentary on the lecture itself, and relate the exciting story of their effort to chase down one of Feynman's most original and scintillating lectures.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Isaac Newton, in his Principia Mathematica (1687), proved Johannes Kepler's law explaining why planets travel in elliptical orbits around the Sun. In 1964, theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, the bestselling author and Nobel Prize winner, set forth his own proof of Kepler's law, using only plane geometry. Feynman's difficult proof, presented in an introductory lecture to Caltech undergraduates, never made it into the classic multivolume Feynman Lectures on Physics, published between 1963 and 1965, but California Institute of Technology archivist Judith Goodstein unearthed the transcript of Feynman's 1964 lecture, published here along with explanatory commentary and historical background, plus 25 photographs and 150 diagrams. Caltech physics professor David Goodstein, Feynman's friend and colleague until the latter's death in 1988, provides a warm reminiscence and does a good job of explaining how quantum physics and relativity supplanted Newtonian science. (May)
Library Journal
Not only colleagues but friends of noted physicist Richard Feynman, David and Judith Goodstein, a professor of physics and a registrar/archivist, respectively, are well qualified to present this material. Their book consists of four chapters. The first and largest is a brief history of the establishment of the Copernican cosmology, which Feynman gave as a lecture to the freshman class at Caltech. Feynman then revisits the work of Isaac Newton and the watershed proof of the Scientific Revolution that separated the ancient world from the modern. There is also chapter a with some wonderful reminiscences of Feynman. While Feynman's presentation requires only an understanding of high school geometry, some persistence will be required to grasp what he is saying. Recommended for academic and public libraries emphasizing the history of science. (CD-ROM not seen.) [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/96.]-James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Gilbert Taylor
Recorded in 1964, this lecture exhibits two unusual aspects: a superstar faculty member teaching "freshmen" a treat unheard of in today's academy--and a proof using only geometry, not calculus as is usual, that planets orbit in ellipses. The lecturer, of course, is the playful genius Richard Feynman--safecracker, atom bomb maker, bongo drummer, and beloved teacher. In tribute to his qualities, former Feynman student Goodstein and his archivist spouse have restored Feynman's voice on a CD accompanying this book. Goodstein expands, in a version replete with numerous diagrams, his spare notes; in a subsequent section, he transcribes Feynman's words verbatim. The effect is a demonstration of what makes an effective science teacher, and lapsed mathematicians who memorized the formulas for triangles and circles can start following Feynman's argument, which he couched in geometry because those were Kepler's and Newton's tools when they revolutionized physics. As for acquisition criteria, general libraries that circulate the Feynman biography "Genius" 1992 by James Gleick can chance it with this curio.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393039184
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/28/1996
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard P. Feynman was born in 1918 and grew up in Far Rockaway, New York. At the age of seventeen he entered MIT and in 1939 went to Princeton, then to Los Alamos, where he joined in the effort to build the atomic bomb. Following World War II he joined the physics faculty at Cornell, then went on to Caltech in 1951, where he taught until his death in 1988. He shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965, and served with distinction on the Shuttle Commission in 1986. A commemorative stamp in his name was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2005.

David Goodstein, vice provost and Frank J. Galloon Distinguished Teaching and Service Professor at the California Institute of Technology, is the author of Feynman's Lost Lecture, among other works. He lives with wife Dr. Judith R. Goodstein in Pasadena.

Judith R. Goodstein, PhD, is University Archivist and faculty associate at Caltech. She has taught history at Cal State Dominguez Hills and UCLA, while building from scratch an archive and rare book collection about the history of science. She is married to Professor David Goodstein.

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Table of Contents

Preface 11
Introduction 17
1 From Copernicus to Newton 21
2 Feynman: A Reminiscence 45
3 Feynman's Proof of the Law of Ellipses 63
4 "The Motion of Planets Around the Sun" March 13, 1964 145
Epilogue 171
Feynman's Lecture Notes 179
Bibliography 183
Index 185
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