Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!

I read the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character almost 2 years ago and I wrote this review back then.

This one made me think a lot and it was worth the time and effort.

Feynman is a curious character indeed, but the book paints a slightly sad picture about one of the greatest physicists of all times. It could be the book, or maybe he was truly the man the book tries to portray. A great storyteller indeed - there is an intentional feel of a fairy tale somewhere in there.

His curiosity towards life, the experiments and the broad range of interests is something worth imitating. His love for science makes you a bit jealous. The playful nature - calculating the equations that govern the wobble of a plate thrown into the air is something that would be of no benefit in the short run, but that eventually got him the Nobel Prize.

Arlene. They married after she got diagnosed with tuberculosis and the book gives an idea that they must have been married for about 5 years when he moved to Los Alamos for Manhattan Project.

First of all, I don’t understand how someone can be 300km away when his wife is in such bad state. She is in hospital dying when he moves to the lab, and Feynman is trying to get a room opposite to the ladies’ dorms so that he can keep looking at them. The book goes at length about hitting on women and his general tendency to objectify women and use them for his benefit without even treating them as fellow beings. The way his wife’s death gets sandwiched between a tale about tires and a tale about clocks left me deeply disturbed.

I know the last paragraph is a bit too harsh and ends abruptly - which is why this draft was left unpublished for over 2 years. I would probably write something very different today. Maybe you should read this excellent review by New York Times instead. Looking back at this 2 years later, I can only imagine how frustrated I would have been just after reading the book.

What changed? I read this beautiful post Love After Life: Nobel-Winning Physicist Richard Feynman’s Extraordinary Letter to His Departed Wife by Maria Popova and realized that I had an extremely biased and skewed opinion about Feynman. It took me a long time to see that I was wrong.

Surely, Mr Feynman is joking and I missed it completely. This is a time before antibiotics was a thing - a few years before the first successful penicillin trials. He must have known that his beloved wife is dying and his inability to do something about it would have killed him too. The Second World War is going on and he was working on one of the most critical projects. I cannot comprehend the pressure on those engineers when literally the fate of the planet is in their hands.

I just didn’t realize that you can be the funniest when you are the most serious. Maybe picking locks and staring out through open windows is all you can do in such a situation. Sorry, Mr Feynman for the little grudge I carried with me for 2 years.