Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For those who know of Richard Feynman, I salute you.
This biography by Gleik, the writer that made Chaos: Making a New Science a household name, tries, mostly successfully, to give us the same treatment about Feynman.
I was fascinated throughout. I've only heard a few funny anecdotes about the man and everyone seems to concur that he's one hell of a genius, but it's better to get into ALL the aspects. Humor, the heartwarming bits, the slightly frustrating but mostly amazing rise of his career as a physicist... all of these things pop out on the page.
An iconoclast? Possibly. But I see him more like a man who, from near-first principles, derived a new way of looking at the universe without bothering to read the majority of the works that came before. He was always shaking things up, keeping his mind agile, and never letting himself succumb to that most horrible of states: rigidity. He was well aware of the tendency of scientists with their pet theories to become ossified the longer they protected their positions.
Feynman always rode the high wave of creativity and originality. He may not have always been successful, but he never took himself too seriously despite being an integral part of quantum physics. Strong, Weak, and EM forces? Oh, yeah.
This book truly humanizes him but also rises above normal biographies in that it postulates, rightly so, a wide and specific theory of what makes Genius. It also comes to some conclusions that shed a bit of light on our own world, too.
For one: where are all the geniuses? :) The answer? They're all around us. And it's often hard to pick certain creative geniuses out of a crowd because the market might be saturated with tons of people who stand on the backs of giants.
One could argue that Richard Feynman was very lucky to have come around at exactly the right time, work on the first atomic bomb, and be surrounded by so many other brilliant minds. His bouts of isolation and creativity were bolstered by others.
Who knows? Without biographies like this, he might have disappeared into footnotes, too.
No one ever really sees the worth of the people around them while they're living. ; ;
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