sunday best #16: Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman

Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman
As told to Ralph Leighton
First published in 1985

Patrick Andrews says:

A flatmate of mine once handed me his copy of this book, two days before my second-year exams. He was studying International Relations, so he had plenty of time to read whatever the hell he liked. I was studying Engineering, so I did not. Thermodynamics II loomed and yet, after the first paragraph, I was hooked and read the entire thing in one sitting.

Why? Well first, it’s a genuinely funny geekfest of anecdotes. Feynman asks a librarian for a Map Of The Cat and pokes fun at authority by picking their precious locks. People stand on their hands at frat parties to test whether urination is gravity-assisted.

Its real attraction, however, is the integrity beneath the hilarity. This guy really cares about science -the joy of finding things out. Via his friend, the book’s author Ralph Leighton, he rants against brittle knowledge, bad textbooks and reverence for reputation rather than reason.

Feynman is never afraid to wave his hands about and describe how things kinda work. The Universe for him is just like a 1950s ‘radio set’ – full of enigmatic components that he is determined to understand and to which he seems to be personally hard-wired.

I love the fact that he developed his own nomenclature for writing mathematics and won his Nobel prize for work based on a dreamlike observation of spinning plates in a canteen.

As a much lower scientific lifeform, I scraped through to third year partly because this book kept me sane.

Patrick Andrews
“Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman” is recommended by Patrick Andrews (see also his six things.
  • First published: 1985
  • Current availability: Available on Amazon UK

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