Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track

Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track

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by Richard P. Feynman

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"I'm an explorer, OK? I like to find out!"

One of the towering figures of twentieth-century science, Richard Feynman possessed a curiosity that was the stuff of legend. Even before he won the Nobel Prize in 1965, his unorthodox and spellbinding lectures on physics secured his reputation amongst students and seekers around the world. It was his outsized love for

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"I'm an explorer, OK? I like to find out!"

One of the towering figures of twentieth-century science, Richard Feynman possessed a curiosity that was the stuff of legend. Even before he won the Nobel Prize in 1965, his unorthodox and spellbinding lectures on physics secured his reputation amongst students and seekers around the world. It was his outsized love for life, however, that earned him the status of an American cultural icon-here was an extraordinary intellect devoted to the proposition that the thrill of discovery was matched only by the joy of communicating it to others.

In this career-spanning collection of letters, many published here for the first time, we are able to see this side of Feynman like never before. Beginning with a short note home in his first days as a graduate student, and ending with a letter to a stranger seeking his advice decades later, Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track covers a dazzling array of topics and themes, scientific developments and personal histories. With missives to and from scientific luminaries, as well as letters to and from fans, family, students, crackpots, as well as everyday people eager for Feynman's wisdom and counsel, the result is a wonderful de facto guide to life, and eloquent testimony to the human quest for knowledge at all levels.

Feynman once mused that "people are 'entertained' enormously by being allowed to understand a little bit of something they never understood before." As edited and annotated by his daughter, Michelle, these letters not only allow us to better grasp the how and why of Feynman's enduring appeal, but also to see the virtues of an inquiring eye in spectacular fashion. Whether discussing the Manhattan Project or developments in quantum physics, the Challenger investigation or grade-school textbooks, the love of his wife or the best way to approach a problem, his dedication to clarity, grace, humor, and optimism is everywhere evident.

.... on Richard Feynman:

"The most original mind of his generation." -Freeman Dyson

"An honest man, the outstanding intuitionist of our age, and a prime example of what may lie in store for anyone who dares to follow the beat of a different drum." -Julian Schwinger

"An original, brilliant, curious, energetic, eclectic, ebullient, gregarious, and consummately iconoclastic human being with a passion for science, a taste for first principles, and a view of reality that was uniquely his." - The Washington Post

"He is everything you want and expect a scientist to be: charming, skeptical, funny, blindingly intelligent." - The Guardian (UK)

"A chain reaction is not a bad analogy for Feynman's life. From a critical mass of gray matter it goes off in all directions, producing both heat and light." - Time

"For him knowledge did not describe; it acted and accomplished. . . . The science he helped create was like nothing that had come before." -James Gleick

"Here was both a showman and a very practical thinker. . . . It is unlikely that the world will see another Richard Feynman." -Paul Davies

"The more one reads of Feynman, the more one falls in love with his refreshingly enthusiastic view of the world." -Alan Guth

"He may have emitted light as well as words." -David Park

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Richard Feynman (1918-1988) has become an American scientific icon. He won the Nobel prize for physics in 1965 for his work on quantum electrodynamics; he became a bit of a television star with his shows explaining physical phenomena in readily understandable terms; and he became the hero of the federal committee investigating the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger when he demonstrated how O rings could fail under cold conditions. He was known as brash and iconoclastic, and a fabulous teacher. This collection of letters edited by Feynman's daughter presents brief glimpses into various facets of his personal and professional lives. Covering the years 1939 to 1987, the letters provide some insight into daily life during the Manhattan Project; others offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Challenger investigation. They also show Feynman to be a thoughtful educator, willing to write back to high school students asking for guidance in selecting a career and understanding physics. The energetic if decidedly colloquial prose underscores Feynman's exuberant nature and self-deprecating sense of humor, as well as his self-described peculiarity when he tried to resign from the National Academy of Sciences because he found it psychologically distasteful to judge people's merit.' 60 b&w photos. Agent, Melanie Jackson. $125,000 national marketing campaign. (Apr. 12) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Just when you thought the fount of Feymaniana had run dry comes this splendid collection of letters assembled and introduced by adopted daughter Michelle. It starts with achingly heartbreaking letters to his first wife, Arline, who would die of tuberculosis in a sanitarium in Albuquerque while Richard worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Included is a letter he addressed to her after her death, which Michelle notes "is well worn-much more than others . . . as though he reread it often." The letters are emblematic of the passion Feynman brought to his life and work and expressed in crystal-clear prose-in his lectures, his texts, his popular writing and in these letters to the world: colleagues, family, institutions, fans, worried parents, eager high-schoolers and the occasional crank. Over and over again, he tells kids to study what they love, tells their parents not to worry, patiently explains errors to would-be solvers of physics problems or coiners of new theories. Over and over again, Feynman reveals an integrity that led him to refuse any honorary degree, decline invitations to Russia as long as restrictions were imposed, decline signing petitions in the absence of what he saw was necessary evidence. Similarly, he often confessed his ignorance of the arts and refused to be drawn into discussions of art and science (but did comment on religion). The letters move chronologically through his settling down at Caltech, marriage to Gweneth, the Englishwoman he hired as a housekeeper, the Nobel in 1965, and the decades following, including, two years before his death from cancer, his pivotal role in demonstrating that faulty O-rings caused the Challenger disaster. Feynman'sarticle on what was wrong with the "New Math" and some neat popular articles are in the appendices, along with a quote in which Feynman describes his elation at discovering a new law of physics: "There was a moment when I knew how nature worked. It had elegance and beauty. The goddamn thing was gleaming."That gleam shines throughout here. First serial to Discover; $125,000 ad/promo; author tour

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Product Details

Basic Books
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6.10(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.60(d)

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