Richard P Feynman was one of this century's most brilliant theo-retical physicists and original thinkers. Born in Far Rockaway, New York, in 1918 he studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a BS in 1939. He went on to Princeton and received his Ph.D. in 1942 During the war years he worked at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. He became Professor of Theoretical Physics at Cornell University, where he worked with Hans Bethe. He all but rebuilt the theory of quantum electrodynamics and high-energy physics and it was for this work that he shared the Nobel Prize in 1965. Feynman was a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology in 1950, where he later accepted a permanent faculty appointment, and became Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theo-retical Physics in 1959. He had an extraordinary ability to communicate his science to audiences at all levels, and was a well--known and popular lecturer. Richard Feynman died in 1988 after a long illness. Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, called him `the most original mind of his generation', while in its obiturary The New York Times described him as `arguably the most brilliant, iconoclastic and influential of the postwar generation of theoretical physicists'.
A number of collections and adaptations of his
Roughly half of these 21 short, colloquial essays deal with Feynman's firsthand investigaton of the Challenger space-shuttle disaster. He casts himself in the role of intrepid detective, and the first-person singular pronoun keeps intruding on the worthwhile things he has to say about flight safety and lack of communication within NASA. An appendix offers his chilling technical observations on the shuttle's reliability or lack of it. The remaining pieces are mostly a blur of international conferences, purveying slight anecdotes. But two essays touch genuine depths of feeling: his tribute to his father, who taught him to cultivate a sense of wonder, and his account of his love affair with his first wife (who died). In this posthumous miscellany, theoretical physicist Feynman displays only sporadically the adventurousness that captivated readers of Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. (October)
Following the success of the late Nobel laureate's first commercial book, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman (1984), this second was perhaps an inevitability. The book has problems, but it is worthwhile nonetheless. In general, the new anecdotes lack the wit, novelty, and outrageousness of those in the earlier work. The book's second half is the high point; it is topical, entertaining, and illuminating, and telells of Feynman's work on the Rogers Commission, which investigated the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Readers who bypass the first part, which is rife with unconnected tales, will be happy to find this in their libraries. Gregg Sapp, Idaho State Univ. Lib., Boise
Feynman's voice echoes raw and direct through these pages.--James Gleick