April 10, 2021

Interdisciplinary Discourse

Forum for KU Academics

An Inspiring Book

Deepak Subedi

Recently, I read an interesting and very inspiring book entitled: Surely Mr. Feynman You are Joking by Richard P. Feynman, one of this century’s most brilliant theoretical physicists and original thinkers. The book is based on his conversation with Ralph Leighton. Before commenting on the book, I would like to give a brief introduction of the author himself.

Feynman was born in New York, USA, in 1918 and studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he graduated with BS in 1939. He went to Princeton and received his Ph.D. in 1942. He also worked in the famous Los Alamos Atomic Bomb project during the second World War. He became Professor of theoretical Physics at Cornell University. He was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his monumental work in Quantum electrodynamics (QED). His equally important contributions are the three volumes of lectures on Physics, Feynman’s Lectures on Physics.

Although all the volumes of Feynman’s work are very popular and read by millions, this particular book, Surely Mr. Feynmann You Are Joking, is touching because it is an autobiography of a most colorful personality in Physics. There is an interesting story as to how Feynman conceived the peculiar title for his book. On his first day to Princeton, he had been invited by the Dean, Eisenhart for tea. Mrs. Eisenhart, while pouring tea for him asked “Would you like cream or lemon in your tea, Mr. Feynman?” Feynman replied “I’ll have both, thank you,” While he was still looking for a place to sit, he heard Mrs. Eisenhart laughing and saying: “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman.” This is how he created the title of his famous book.

In Surely… Feynman has described some of the memorable events of his life, specially when he was starting his career as a physicist. His peculiar way of describing the events inspires everyone who loves science. He had an extraordinary ability to communicate his knowledge of science to his audience at all levels. The New York Times described him as arguably the most brilliant, iconoclastic and influential of the post-war generation of theoretical physicists. He has employed his extraordinary skill and knowledge in physics in solving a wide range of problems which we encounter in our everyday life. When we read the book, it becomes evident that physics teaches us the way of doing science whichever may be the field. For example he applies his wits in cutting salads to cracking safe, playing drums to painting portraits and even in deciphering the Mayan-calendar.

Most importantly, Feynman put his love of physics to a highest position. He possessed an unquenchable thirst for adventure and unparalleled gift for telling extraordinary stories of his life, which are reflected throughout the book. This book has inspired thousands of physicists around the world. Anyone who is interested in science should read this book in order to cultivate an enthusiasm for learning new things and understanding the joy of doing science.

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