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the Complete Review
the complete review - science

The Pleasure of
Finding Things Out

Richard P. Feynman

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To purchase The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Title: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
Author: Richard P. Feynman
Genre: Science
Published: (1999)
Length: 257 pages
Availability: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out - US
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out - UK
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out - Canada
Es ist so einfach - Deutschland
  • The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman
  • Edited by Jeffrey Robbins
  • Foreword by Freeman Dyson

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Our Assessment:

B : generally unpolished but still interesting and informative pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Scientist B 9-10/1999 Robert Root-Bernstein
Salon B+ 27/10/1999 Edward Neuert
Scientific American . 11/1999 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Anyone looking for an antidote to the concept of science as a practical method of finding truth or an axiomatic description of reality and a path to positive knowledge will find these essays invigorating." - Robert Root-Bernstein, American Scientist

  • "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a new gathering of Feynman pieces, is as illuminating, pleasurable and frustrating as the scientist himself." - Edward Neuert, Salon

  • "On these subjects and all the others he treats, Feynman is both interesting and quotable." - Scientific American

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       It almost seems that a Feynman industry has developed around the legendary scientist. Feynmania is still all the rage, and more than a decade after his death yet another collection appears, promising, this time, "the best short works of Richard P. Feynman." A motley collection ranging from a talk given at Caltech in 1959 to his minority report to the space shuttle Challenger inquiry it does bring together a broad variety of his work and offers further insight into the mind of this quirky genius.
       Included are several interviews, beginning with the transcript of a BBC interview (broadcast in the US as a Nova episode), as well as lectures, reminiscences, and the aforementioned Challenger report. A fair amount of autobiographical material is included, as is the groundbreaking talk on the possibilities of nanotechnology, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.
       It is a somewhat haphazard collection, including anecdotal pieces (as were found in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman !) as well as more technical pieces. However, it is this variety which allows the book to serve as an excellent introduction to Feynman. All the facets of this fascinating man -- his inquisitive mind, his anti-authoritarianism, his place in history, his humour, and his genius -- shine through in them. Describing his youth, where he first learnt "the pleasure of finding things out," and his curiosity about most everything that he comes across the reader gets a good picture of the inquisitive man (and of many of his accomplishments).
       Whether speaking about his personal experiences in Los Alamos (discussing everything from his safe-cracking methods to the first atomic blast itself), about cult sciences, about Computing Machines in the Future or, more generally, about What is Science ? (and how it should be taught), Feynman shows the advantages of great curiosity (and a healthy dose of doubt, especially when confronted by authority). The book is filled with anecdotes and speculations, raising possibilities, considering what is and might be possible in the future (notably with regards to things of minute size, from computers to engines). At every turn his mind seems to jump ahead to the next idea.
       While offering a very direct view of Feynman's mind at work, this directness is also the book's great weakness: transcribed lectures, interviews, and talks make for very unpolished prose, and while there is energy and enthusiasm on these pages the prose is very ragged, the thoughts often running into each other. While it is understandable that the collection has not been truly edited (since doing so without Feynman's input might weaken much of the work), the awkward writing is, at times, bothersome. Only the Challenger report has the clarity that readers have come to expect even from science-writers.
       Nevertheless, Feynman's generous spirit shines through, making the sometimes awkward trek through muddied prose worthwhile. Though some of the pieces are up to four decades old, surprisingly little of it is dated. Indeed, Feynman asked many of the right questions (and came up with many of the right answers), and he is still worth reading now.
       Recommended, with the warning not to expect a neat and polished read.

       Note:While we generally approve of a hands-off editorial policy and understand that the editors did not want to meddle with Feynman's words a stronger editorial hand might have been called for in this volume. We agree with Jeffrey Robbins' decision to "let stand (Feynman's) ungrammatical turns of phrase", but we would have preferred clearer introductions to the various pieces, as well as more precise attributions (who conducted the interview Mr. Feynman builds a Universe ? when was it conducted ?). Footnotes are also casually strewn in, giving some background information, but not enough.
       More seriously the American edition contains two striking editorial slips that must be mentioned. A footnote regarding Brownian motion claims it was "first noted in print in 1928 by botanist Robert Brown, and explained by Albert Einstein in a 1905 paper." In fact, Robert Brown's discovery dates from the 1820s (which, chronologically speaking, also makes more sense than the passage otherwise suggests). More egregious is the misspelling of James Joyce's work (in a transcription of an interview made under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) as Finnegan's Wake (there is no apostrophe in the actual title). Neither of these errors can be ascribed to Feynman.
        Our understanding is that editors and copyeditors are paid to avoid such mistakes from appearing in print. Apparently they are currently being paid to do something else entirely.

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The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: Reviews: Richard P. Feynman: Other books by Richard P. Feynman under review Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American physicist Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988) won the Nobel Prize in 1965. A graduate of MIT and Princeton, Feynman worked at Los Alamos and became one of the leading scientists of the second half of the twentieth century.

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