Hello friends of The Book Barn! My name is Peter. You might have seen me working at one of the stores recently. I’m posting on the blog because I just finished a really excellent book, and like everyone who finds something they really love, I now want to share it with others.
The book is called Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and it’s written by Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman. Actually, I’m pretty sure that it was at least partially ghostwritten, but that’s no matter. The book is an anthology is anecdotes and musings from Mr. Feynman’s life both inside and outside the world of science.
Before reading, I was only dimly aware of Richard Feynman. I knew he was a really smart scientist, often mentioned in the same breath as Einstein. Actually, that’s all I knew. In the book, I learned that he was a physicist specifically, and a winner of the Nobel Prize. He worked at Los Alamos during WWII to help design the atomic bomb. And he has a sense of adventure to make for some really great stories.
One of my favorite chapters (though it honestly is almost impossible to choose) is “Certainly, Mr. Big!” in which Mr. Feynman recounts a summer that he spent in Las Vegas. His sense of adventure is on full display here, and the story ends up reading something like the script for The Hangover. Not only does Mr. Feynman meet professional gambler Nick the Greek and befriend several showgirls, he also insinuates himself into the inner circle of a celebrity high roller. Together, they drive expensive cars around the city, woo women and generally paint the town red.
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! is one of those books where the words spilled off the page and into my head to influence the way I see things. By way of example- while I was reading this book, my car broke down. After taking it to the mechanic, I was told that some part had broken, and antifreeze was leaking into the motor oil. It was going to be $600-800 to fix the part, but the engine might be shot anyway. There was no way of telling without spending money on the repair. For day I dithered on whether or not I should gamble on fixing the car or scrape together the money to buy another one. During all of this, I read the chapter, “An Offer You Must Refuse.” Feynman describes a bidding way between two universities that wanted him in their faculty. After going back and forth between them, he chooses sticks with CalTech, even in light of a much better offer from Cornell. “It’s much easier to just plain decide,” he writes. I reflected on this for a while, then called the mechanic and told him to go ahead with the repair. I haven’t worried about it since.
This book will instill more than decisiveness in it’s reader though. Feynman seems to take such immense enjoyment from interacting with his world that it becomes infectious. His sense of adventure and scientific curiosity are worthy of emulation, and they’re great fun to boot (I defy you to read the chapter “Testing Bloodhounds” and not try your own experiment). Whether you know nothing about science, or you’re a Noble laureate yourself, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! will bring you enjoyment, and quite a bit more.
Oh, and since this is the Book Barn blog, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we have several copies of this book, as well as other science and non-science writings by Richard Feynman, at our downtown store.