Skip to main content

What Do You Care What Other People Think? – Richard Feynman ****

Richard Feynman had an unexpected success with his superb collection of tales (some bearing a good resemblance to reality) told to Ralph Layton, Surely You Are Joking, Mr Feynman? This book is technically a sequel to that bestseller, but anyone expecting more of the same might feel a touch of the disappointment Lord of the Rings fans had when Tolkein’s next book, The Silmarillion came out. In both cases, the sequel had none of the order of the original, and was something of a collection of bits and bobs that didn’t fit elsewhere.
But there the similarity goes away – for most readers The Silmarillion was deadly dull, where What Do You Care is anything but. It’s just that compared with Surely You Are Joking, it is more of a grouping of disparate short pieces of writing, plus half a book. Even so, all come through strongly in Feynman’s unmistakable accents (if you’ve never heard him speak, imagine Tony Curtis reading the words aloud).
The first section contains a few interesting short memories – if you’ve read one of Feynman’s biographies, these will seem rather familiar, but this is the original, in Feyman’s own words. Then there are a number of letters, including his humorous first encounter with royalty. When this book was published, these were a great addition, though since his collected letters are now out as Don’t You Have Time to Think (or Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, depending which side of the Atlantic you’re on), they are less valuable.
Then comes the absolute gem – Feynman’s description of the whole process of the investigation into the explosion of the shuttle Challenger. Again, this will be familiar to readers of a Feynman biography, but the real thing is much richer than any of the versions I have seen elsewhere. Of course there’s Feynman’s famous bit of theatre with the O-ring dipped in ice water, but that gets less coverage than the machinations and the battle between science and logic on the one hand and politics and expediency on the other – it’s gripping. Here we see Feynman doing what he does best – being the innocent in the land of the unnecessarily complex, cutting through the garbage with a sharp question or a quick idea. There’s no doubt at all that this was a knowingly projected image, a persona that Feynman used to get results – let’s face it, he was no fool – but it doesn’t make it any less effective.
Without doubt, the book is well worth buying for the Challenger section alone – and it’s more than a few articles, it’s half the whole contents – totally fascinating in its mix of science and politics.
Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Fe…