Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)
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A series of anecdotes shouldn't by rights add up to an autobiography, but that's just one of the many pieces of received wisdom that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) cheerfully ignores in his engagingly eccentric book, a bestseller ever since its initial publication in 1985. Fiercely independent (read the chapter entitled "Judging Books by Their Covers"), intolerant of stupidity even when it comes packaged as high intellectualism (check out "Is Electricity Fire?"), unafraid to offend (see "You Just Ask Them?"), Feynman informs by entertaining. It's possible to enjoy Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman simply as a bunch of hilarious yarns with the smart-alecky author as know-it-all hero. At some point, however, attentive readers realize that underneath all the merriment simmers a running commentary on what constitutes authentic knowledge: learning by understanding, not by rote; refusal to give up on seemingly insoluble problems; and total disrespect for fancy ideas that have no grounding in the real world. Feynman himself had all these qualities in spades, and they come through with vigor and verve in his no-bull prose. No wonder his students--and readers around the world--adored him. --Wendy Smith

The outrageous exploits of one of this century's greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original. In this phenomenal national bestseller, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts in his inimitable voice his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature. A New York Times bestseller; more than 500,000 copies sold.

Customer Reviews:

  • Fun book
    This book was fun to read. Dr. Feynman surely has a lot of worthwile stories to tell. He is an interesting character and has a lot to offer to those outside of the realm of physics. ...more info
  • Great
    HUgely entertaining and educational. OK so he was a good self-publicist, but one of the great things he did was encourage people to think for themselves about things, including 'authorities' such as Feynman himself became....more info
  • Fantastic journey into the life of a genius
    This book was an absolute joy to read. I found that I could not put it down. It makes a great book for a small break in the day because each topic is only a few pages. I will warn you that reading just one topic may be difficult. If you enjoy science, physics, how things work, brilliant minds, you will love this book....more info
  • He's a magician from first to last
    I can't really add much to the hundreds of reviews already posted but to say one thing in response to a common criticism I've read. Many have criticized this book for its poor writing style. This would be a valid critique - if Feynman had actually sat down and written it. Nearly the entire book is transcript from a series of taped conversations between Feynman and a friend, and the effect is amazing. Enjoy!...more info
  • Good work, Mr. Feynman
    Most often when we say that we "laughed" at this book or this movie, we mean it figuratively: we found it funny, we smiled, and so on.

    Not this book. This is the first time in a long while that a book has made me chuckle, snort, and laugh loudly enough for my family to ask what's going on. It's not a humor book, but it is a funny book. Feynman guides the reader through what he probably felt were the most interesting parts of his life, but rather than doing so in a set memoir format ("my greatest influence as a child was so-and-so") he does it by telling stories. It works wonderfully. His stories, of fixing radios as a kid during the Great Depression, picking the locks of colleagues while working at the Manhattan Project, picking girls up in a bar at New Mexico, are little bits of life told as it was really lived, not as it was remembered. The tone of the book is honest, unpretentious and decidedly cheeky.

    And for the same reasons, it has a lot to teach. Feynman doesn't pretend to be an expert on dating, but you'll find dating tips here, as he learned and applied them (often to unexpected, hilarious effect). He doesn't pretend to be an expert on philosophy, but you'll learn about his outlook on life and how you deal with being part of the project that created the most terrifying weapon on Earth. Feynman doesn't tell you about life as it ought to be, he tells you about life as it is- or was it was for him, at any rate. It's a rewarding read....more info
  • Rousing fun with physics
    Dr. Feynman demonstrates the humor and roaring fun that made him such a favorite teacher among his students. His sense of humor is contagious and you find yourself realizing that even physics can be fun. His burning curiousity is also contagious and you may find yourself taking time to stare at ants for hours and enjoying every minute of it. Get the book, it is one of the funnest books I ever read. And it might just give you the passion for learning and impish inquisitive mind to understand the joy of spending your life in pursuit of learning. There is not praise high enough for this joyous and rousing testament to a life well lived....more info
  • A Brilliant Book by a Brilliant Man
    "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" is simply one of the best books I've read. It's funny, witty, informative, and interesting. But most of all, it's entertaining.

    Despite my utter infatuation with this book, I believe a "Reader Beware" is in order: To truly enjoy this book, I would suggest that you have at least some interest in science. Feynman's antics aren't difficult to understand, but if you don't like science, you might feel a bit on the outside of some inside jokes.

    As for the accusations regarding Feynman's arrogance, they're not unfounded. But it boils down to this: a smart guy poking fun at some dumber guys. I found it funny. Some people don't. If you've never giggled in class when someone gave a really dumb answer to a question, you may not enjoy this book.

    Overall, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" is an excellent piece of literature. It's an incredibly fun read....more info
  • Brilliant! Entertaining! Hilarious!
    This "autobiography" is as unconventional as Feynman himself. It follows a zig-zaggy chronology through Feynman's life from childhood to young adulthood in a series of brief accounts that showcase his impish humor, profound intellect, and disdain for arrogant authority. No doubt, it was his nonconformist nature that led him to pursue science in a way that led to his breakthroughs in physics and, eventually, to the Nobel Prize.

    But this book isn't aimed at scientists. It's an entertaining biography for a general audience interested in meeting an unforgettable character. You'll find yourself smiling while you read of Feynman's adventures and gaffes. Even if you hated your high school physics class, you'll enjoy learning about Richard Feynman, a free spirit living in a time of social stuffiness and conformity. ...more info
  • Feynman at his Finest
    This book is by far the best non-technical science book. Period. You don't have to be a scientist to love the spirit of Richard Feynman. From discovering the behaviors of ants with sugar to his stints as an artist and musician, Feynman reminds us all that the world is still our playground, waiting to be discovered.

    ...more info
    What I perceive of Richard Feynman is a man who exudes a great level of confidence. His confidence helped him to question things, helped him to work hard at achieving success at difficulties he encountered and that confidence permeated his everyday experiences both socially and academically. Whenever he was truly unimpressed by something, he does not mince his words to correct for the emotion or feelings of the ones he was opposed to ultimately.

    What may have been his greatest undoing or flaw is the fact that he NEVER really listens. Subtly, through the text, you can sense his quick undermining statements--not utterly condescending though. To the reader, this might be wrong, but to Feynman, it was his way of making elaborate constructions of the complacence of others and by so doing, was necessarily placing everyone on the same level field of intelligence.

    "Ofey" (his name as an artist) remained a student of life and he had enriching experiences, even with the ladies--beautiful ones too. A word for even the relegated geeks or unsociable nerds- if a physics nobel laureate can do it, then who shouldn't?

    Finally, because of Feynman, I know everyone can write a story. If you have not really been a big fan of physics, pick up a book on physics again, and you will be surprised at how you approach it now. You can read and understand it, because PHYSICS works.

    Very enjoyable read. It is such a pity that he is gone now from us. I would have personally loved to meet him.
    ...more info
  • Great Fun and a great into to True Learning
    I affirm the positive comments of the other reviewers. I am a truck driver and dairy farmer and just finished the books on tape version of this book. I want to run away to graduate school and get at PHD in physics. I hated science in school.

    I especialy recommend this book because it affirms true learning. It really doesn't start until you fall in love with a subject and go after it just for the fun of it and for the most part on your own. Much of the book is about his love of physics and scientific exploration. He touches upon how to do education wrong with his stories about science education in Brazil and his work selecting K-12 science texts for the LA school system. My independent road of becoming a dairy farmer affirms his thinking, and I am so glad I did not try to get an Ag degree....more info
  • A hilarious yet important book
    Yes, it's true that Feynman was a great scientist. Fortunately, for those not well-versed in physics, it's not necessary to know anything about it to enjoy this book. His escapades are funny, and, if some thought them cruel, I don't think that was his intention. He learned from everything around him, from how people act, to cracking safes (which he did to point out security flaws), to learning about the fascinating world of ants. His sense of humor shines through in all his stories, so that makes this book great fun to read as well as a great resource into the mind of an intelligent and thoughtful man. I cannot recommend this book enough. ...more info
  • More about his personal life...
    This is a good book if you haven't read any of the other books about Feynman. A few of the chapters have been published elsewhere, such as in "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" which in my opinion was a better (more science-centric) book. This book was more about his personal life and included some interesting information about his experiences with women and his time spent travelling....more info
  • If you're lucky you get to rub elbows with brilliance and humor. Feynman had both.
    I have had the pleasure to be smitten by people of Feynman's character type & generally have left their presence drooling with admiration and a certain sort of blessed reassurance that there is sanity in this crazy world.

    This book is not one I would characterize as an "easy read" especially if you don't have a basic & general background in all of the sciences. I consider myself to have a basic background and while grasping most of the stories & quips involving Feynman's fascination with biological concepts, I pretty much got glassy eyed when stumbling through quantum theory, theroms and what have you.

    Nevertheless, this book is very entertaining and gives insight into the workings of a man of enormous curiosity , intelligence and whit.

    It is written in short chapters , each one could be read as a separate story all of which are rich with adventure, sound scientific thinking and humor.

    I think every student from 5th grade through college level should be encouraged to read this book as it is a great lesson in how science is a process of sound thinking, logical reasoning, debate and discussion, success and failure.

    Pick this one up. It is an exceptional insight into a brilliant mind, an interesting character and some background on his & other's contribution to our own American history. The book is written in Feynman's voice and will leave you feeling as if you knew him and begging for the chance to go back in time and have a cup of tea with him.

    M...more info
  • An extraordinary individual
    It is hard to imagine that a man who stands like a colossus among physicists over time thinks that the whole thing is actually pretty simple and easy-this book is all about that. Nothing extraordinary about it. As they say, the more elevated the intellect, the more humble the it to believe it. A must for the high school geek taking a keen interest in physics....more info
  • Awsome!!
    Got this book at the perfect time, right when I started getting into academic research. If I would have read this book earlier I may not have gotten as much out of it. LOVED the book, every engineering and science student should read it (especially if they are looking for a hint of inspiration).

    ...more info
  • You Should Read This Book!
    This autobiographical work is one of the most delightful discussions of a brilliant nuclear physicist you will ever read. The book covers some of the most serious subjects of the 20th century, with humor that will amaze you. In narrating his adventures, Feynman shows physicists to be human beings, with faults and foibles, and presents reasons why they pursue such esoteric careers. Anyone who is aware of the history of the development of the atomic bomb, and the U.S Space Program, will both enjoy and learn from this book. Once you read it, you will be recommending it to all your friends....more info
  • such a delight to know feynman
    This books will make you wealthy and wise , One of the best investment ever....more info
  • Fantastic read
    This is a fantastic book! Richard Feynman is a fascinating person and an excellent writer. His view of the world is exciting and interesting and his life experiences make for enjoyable stories. One lesson that comes through in this book is 'Think', don't be afraid to stop and think about something, a problem, a point of view, etc. Through these stories and the life of Richard Feynman, we are all shown what it is to live a life well. Get this book!
    ...more info
  • yep its ok
    Coming from a 16 year old girl that has to read this book for a school project...I would have to say that this book is kind of boring. If your into physics and science and all that jazz then you will most likely enjoy this book. But if you're going to read it just to read it, then I would suggest you not. I have to admit, that some of the stuff Richard Feynman says is funny but I found my self skipping pages at a time because of its boringness. Don't get me wrong, I really do admire Mr. Feynman as a man and he was a great physicist but this book was just ok. Sometimes he got into a lot of in-depth physics stuff that I just didn't care for. But sometimes i was interested in what he was saying.

    Have a nice day...more info
  • I don't see what all the fuss is about.
    OK, so Feynman is smarter than all of us. We get it. But I found him to be an insufferable jerk. Pompous and insensitive doesn't begin to describe this man's character. At about the time he started messing with that poor waitress, leaving her tip underneath a tipped-over glass of water so she would wonder how he'd done it, and would have to spill water all over the floor in order to retrieve his pocket change, I'd had enough. But I went ahead and fished the book anyway, because I was so far into it.

    Quite simply, the man suffers from emotional stunted growth, and I doubt if he pranks have won him very many true friends.

    Also, I must say the writing leaves something to be desired. It's breezy and mannered, far too coloquial, ridden with cliches, and not at all well-edited. His editor was probably afraid to touch his prose, but it needed a lot of work.

    Are there some interesting stories here? A few. Thus, two stars. It's not a complete waste of time, but I just don't see how so many people like this book so much....more info
  • Think while laughing !
    A really great book by a great man. I almost laughed out loud while on a train and am sure people thought I was crazy. The book made me wonder how can you lead such an interesting life and yet win a Nobel Prize in physics (I guess you can).
    Though the book does not follow a chronological order , I could feel the earlier part corresponds to the youthful times in his life (If he ever got old). Towards the later stages in the book I could also sense some cynicism in his words and he feels strongly about the lack of integrity, particularly in scientific research and life in general around him.
    A wonderful book that gives some insight into a brilliant mind and inspires to think while learning and not just memorize facts.
    ...more info
  • Richard Feynman is my pal
    That's the way it seemed when I read this book. Feynman's authorial voice is friendly, intimate, unassuming, and unique. I found it delightful. The entire book is a gas, fascinating, and educational. Feynman seems like just the kind of guy you'd like to hang out with. He can be a real PITA, but also funny as hell, and always interesting. I really didn't want the book to end (fortunately there are others by him that I haven't read yet). Feynman has a way of thinking that moves into your own brain. I keep catching myself thinking when faced with a problem "Now how would Richard approach this?"

    There's not much hard science here but I did get a good sense about some aspects of the sociology and methodology of contemporary physics. Feynman also has interesting ideas about art, music, culture, and people. Some of the anecdotes are historically important, especially the episodes at Los Alamos.

    Feynman seems to be painfully honest in places--how many would admit to peccadilloes like spending six nights a week in a strip club--but elsewhere his anecdotes seem confabulated. One description of a philosophical discussion at Princeton when he was a grad student there is absolutely implausible unless Princeton philosophy grad students were a lot worse than I'm sure they were. This is something I know something about. That conversation did not take place the way Feynman describes it. Who cares? (I do a little.) Also Feynman takes a completely gratuitous pot shot at the Cornell philosophy department, which at that time and still today is one of the best in the US.

    Feynman is also a bit of a phony, especially in his apparent distain for the Nobel Prize. I guarantee you he would have been mortally crushed if he had not gotten the Nobel (and rightly so!). He's also overbearing toward the end of the book where he discusses "cargo cult science," although the basic point that Feynman is trying to make is deeply important IMO. The thing is the guy's human, very human; he comes across that way--fleshy, a little nerdy, excitable, not always dependable, compulsive, and unpredictable, self-involved, cool sometimes, brilliantly original in an unpretentious way sometimes, and a great story teller.

    Reading this book is a wonderful very human experience....more info
  • Feynman steals the show with his witty attitude!
    Before readnig this book I knew very little about Physics and never even heard about Richard P. Feynman. After reading the book, I got a greater appreciation for Physicists and what they do.

    Feynmans witty attitude keeps the reader awake and yearning for more. He describes physics with such simplicity that a child could understand. His great attitude and vivid imagination help you conceptualize his experiments both as a child and as an adult. Great book overall!...more info
  • Brilliant But Insufferable Guy
    I'm in the camp that believes Feynman was a brilliant scientist but somewhat of a jerk. His practical jokes, though perhaps brilliantly conceived, were often hurtful and arrogant. His stories about his bar-hopping and womanizing lack credibility. I'm not impressed that he knew how to play bongo drums -- who doesn't? And then there are his "cultural" pursuits. I know other scientific types who look down on the arts and believe they are easy. As a result, we get a lot of scientists who think they can write, compose or play music, do art, write poetry, etc., when, in fact, they are usually embarassingly terrible at those things. Feynman is guilty of that; his prose is mundane and cliched. Where was his editor? On the other hand, I was very impressed by Feynman's passion for correct learning, that is, to make sure you UNDERSTAND something, not just rely on rote. That's valuable. Ditto for his belief that if a person does not live up to another person's expectations, it's the fault of the person who set the expectations too high, not the person who failed to meet them. I enjoyed the vignettes of other great thinkers. I appreciated his plea for total intellectual honesty in all endeavors. And although I think Feynman was a wiseacre, I have to admit that he had me laughing in a few places. I believe Feynman was a great man -- perhaps more accurately, a great nerd. I'm glad I read the book, but in its entirety, I would have to say it merits only three stars....more info