The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman

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by Richard P. Feynman, Sean Runnette

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The Pleasure of Finding Things Outis a magnificent treasury of the best short works of Richard Feynman—from interviews and speeches to lectures and printed articles. A sweeping, wide-ranging collection, it presents an intimate and fascinating view of a life in science-a life like no other. From his ruminations on science in our culture to his Nobel


The Pleasure of Finding Things Outis a magnificent treasury of the best short works of Richard Feynman—from interviews and speeches to lectures and printed articles. A sweeping, wide-ranging collection, it presents an intimate and fascinating view of a life in science-a life like no other. From his ruminations on science in our culture to his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, this book will fascinate anyone interested in the world of ideas.

Editorial Reviews

Edward Neuert

How strange that the popular image of one of the greatest minds of the century rests so heavily on a flimsy set piece involving a glass of ice water and a scrap of rubber. But Richard Feynman is fixed in the memories of many non-scientists as the iconoclast on the Rogers Commission, which investigated the space shuttle Challenger explosion -- the lab geek with the crazy hair who, in the middle of a hearing, cut through the bureaucratic obfuscation to perform his own telling experiment.

Knowing that flexibility was crucial to the rubber o-ring's ability to contain the intense heat of the shuttle's solid-fuel boosters, Feynman immersed a piece of the material in a glass of ice water on the hearing-room table -- showing simply and clearly that the ring had lost its ability to flex on the cold January morning of the Challenger's launch. "Feynman," commission chair William Rogers is reported to have whispered to a colleague, "is becoming a real pain."

This Mr. Wizard Goes to Washington performance nicely summed up the public Richard Feynman: genius, rule-breaker, simplifier of the seemingly complex. And this was a guy who knew from complex. Winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics for his work in reconstructing the theory of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was recruited to the Manhattan Project while he was still in his early 20s. But unlike most people with intimate knowledge of subatomic particles, Feynman could function and communicate in the world of large, everyday objects.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a new gathering of Feynman pieces, is as illuminating, pleasurable and frustrating as the scientist himself. Subtitled "The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman," the book presents a baker's dozen pieces culled from a career's worth of lectures, reports, interviews and articles. Feynman discourses on the philosophy of science, the relationship of science to religion and the world of the top-secret Los Alamos lab. The collection also gives us Feynman's prescient looks at "the future" that has become our present, seen most strongly in his groundbreaking 1959 Cal Tech lecture on the possibilities of miniaturization. Reading Feynman's Cal Tech musings on possible ways to build tiny electrical circuits makes you feel you are witnessing the birth of the silicon chip, and you pretty much are. Just as affecting in different ways are his descriptions of his father -- who encouraged Feynman's boyish scientific curiosity with "no pressure, just lovely interesting discussions" -- and an account of the physicist's deep despair after the product of interesting discussions at Los Alamos had twice been dropped on Japan.

Feynman was a world-class talker who seemingly had little time or patience for mundane rewrite work. So a large portion of this book consists of spoken-word transcriptions that could have benefited from the clarifying process of editing. Quite a few have already been edited, in fact, and appeared some years ago, polished up in two as-told-to books: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? To say Feynman needed an editor may be heresy to his disciples, who rival Bucky Fullerites in their level of devotion. But I'd hazard a guess that the man himself would be pleased to know, 11 years after his death, that he's still capable of being both a pain and a pleasure, and much more the latter.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A Nobel-winning physicist, inveterate prankster and gifted teacher, Feynman (1918-1988) charmed plenty of contemporary and future scientists with accounts of his misadventures in the bestselling Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and explained the fundamentals of physics in (among other books) Six Easy Pieces. Editor Jeffrey Robbins's assemblage of 13 essays, interviews and addresses (only one of them new to print) will satisfy admirers of those books and other fans of the brilliant and colorful scientist. Best known among the selections here is certainly Feynman's "Minority Report to the Challenger Inquiry," in which the physicist explained to an anxious nation why the Space Shuttle exploded. The title piece transcribes a wide-ranging, often-autobiographical interview Feynman gave in 1981; an earlier talk with Omni magazine has the author explaining his prize-winning work on quantum electrodynamics, then fixing the interviewer's tape recorder. Other pieces address the field of nanotechnology, "The Relation of Science and Religion" and Feynman's experience at Los Alamos, where he helped create the A-bomb (and, in his spare time, cracked safes). Much of the work here was originally meant for oral delivery, as speeches or lectures: Feynman's talky informality can seduce, but some of the pieces read more like unedited tape transcripts than like science writing. Most often, however, Feynman remains fun and informative. Here are yet more comments, anecdotes and overviews from a charismatic rulebreaker with his own, sometimes compelling, views about what science is and how it can be done. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It is an ironic twist of fate that Feynman the iconoclast has become a 20th-century icon. Feynman has a large and devoted following not because of his famous hijinks, or his skill as a bongo drum performer, or even his Nobel Prize in quantum electrodynamics. Feynman became an icon because he was a man of great integrity who did physics because it was fun. This collection of 13 short works is a pleasure to read--the editor has chosen not to correct any of Feynman's grammar or idiosyncratic phraseology. Intended for a general audience, these lectures and presentations cover a wide range of topics, including his early life, philosophy, religion, nanotechnology, the future of computing, Los Alamos, fun with science, science and society, and the Challenger disaster. Recommended for public as well as academic institutions.--James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Comprises 13 pieces<-->interviews, speeches, lectures, and printed articles<-->on all sorts of topics, by the inimitable physicist. Many (most) are available elsewhere, but it's fun to have them collected here. Freeman Dyson provides the foreword; editor Robbins briefly introduces the collection and each selection. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Graham Farmelo
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is a delightful reminder of Feynman's prodigious gifts. On the book's inside cover, among the encomia to his talents as a communicator and a scientist, the writer John Gribbin asserts that he "was certainly the greatest physicist, and possibly the greatest scientist, to be born in the twentieth century."
Kirkus Reviews
More gems from the Feynman factory. If some things are old or borrowed, it hardly matters: there are enough new or unfamiliar to charm fans. Since the Nobel laureate's death, there have been biographies, "as-told-to" accounts, and various interviews and selected writings that continue to reveal the workings of one of the most remarkable and inventive minds in physics. But part and parcel with the revelations of genius are the pranks and idiosyncrasies that have built the Feynman legend of bongo player, gambler, bon vivant, and girl watcher. The current collection replays a few of those choice bits. But it's much more a picture of Feynman as passionate and scrupulously honest scientist, insisting always that truth is never absolute. There is much homage to his father, who inspired the habit of asking questions that go to the heart of the matter of how and why things work. A wonderful Caltech graduation speech allows him to contrast real with pseudoscience and speaks to the absolute necessity of providing one's peers with all the information they need to judge one's work. There's a lovely reminiscence of himself as a nervous 24-year-old asked to present a seminar at Princeton before a group that included Eugene Wigner, John Wheeler, Wolfgang Pauli, John von Neumann and Albert Einstein. When it's over, Pauli gets up and turns to Einstein and says, don't you agree that this theory cannot be right? To which Einstein replies, "N-o-o-o." "Nicest no I ever heard," Feynman says. The collection includes Feynman's insightful minority report on the Challenger disaster, his well-known disdainful comments on philosophy and behavioral science, his despair of today's cultural ignorance of thenature of science, and his prescient thoughts on parallel processing for computers and principles of miniaturization we now call nanotechnology. All said, of course, in the idiom of the boy from New York whose pleasure in finding things out affords the reader another sort of pleasure.

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Blackstone Audio, Inc.
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What People are saying about this

John Horgan
Feynman at his idiosyncratic, brilliant best.
— John Horgan, author of The Undiscovered Mind

Meet the Author

Richard P. Feynman was raised in Far Rockaway, New York, and received his Ph.D. from Princeton. He held professorships at both Cornell and the California Institute of Technology. In 1965 he received the Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics. He died in 1988.

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The Pleasure of Finding Things Out 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Fan4SFGiants More than 1 year ago
This is one of Richard Feynman's finest masterpieces. Richard Feynman clearly explains his theories about computers,atomic bombs and other physics observations found in everyday objects. If you're interested in physics,read this book. You'll love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Richard P. Feynman is a witty scientific genius who contributed extensively to the Manhattan Project, making the atomic bomb. He was not a physics geek, obsessed with numbers, but a logical thinker, often perplexed by science and physics relating to matter in the universe, religion, and society. Feynman¿s accomplishments in nanotechnology have sparked the nanotech revolution, beginning already with improved water resistant products, and promising great leaps in the fields of medicine, chemistry, and energy. This compilation of speeches and interviews not only represents the scientist¿s work, but his motives and personality as well. Feynman shares entertaining stories, consisting of himself using his genius to play a trick or decode a safe. Others will find the combination of science and philosophy in this book a mind churning subject, as Feynman contemplates the intricacies of the universe. It is an entertaining and thought provoking read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
That's what this world needs. The more fun you can have at a moron's expense, the more delightful it is!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is, quite possibly, the GREATEST book I have EVER read. I loved it so much and recomend it to anyone who is alive.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This great book opened my eyes to many wonders and to the joy of finding them out and how they work. His mental exercises were a great trial and fun to see if I could do them. I couldn't. I fell in love with Richard Feynman only to find he had died. Very sad. The whole world will miss him
Guest More than 1 year ago
Richard Feynman was a great physicist and a wonderful teacher. In another nice book THE BIBLE ACCORDING TO EINSTEIN, he is quoted as saying 'The fact that I understand this rose -- the light reflected off its surface, how it is composed of cells, why it is red, the evolutionary origin of the bees' attraction to it, and so on -- these things do not in any way diminish my appreciation of its beauty. In fact, they enhance my ability to enjoy the rose.' This says it all.