Perfectly Reasonable Deviations...: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman

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9781419343223: Perfectly Reasonable Deviations...: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman

A Nobel Prize-winning physicist, a loving husband and father, an enthusiastic teacher, a surprisingly accomplished bongo player, and a genius of the highest caliber--Richard P. Feynman was all these and more. Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From the Beaten Track-collecting over forty years' worth of Feynman's letters-offers an unprecedented look at the writer and thinker whose scientific mind and lust for life made him a legend in his own time. Containing missives to and from such scientific luminaries as Victor Weisskopf, Stephen Wolfram, James Watson, and Edward Teller, as well as a remarkable selection of letters to and from fans, students, family, and people from around the world eager for Feynman's advice and counsel, Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From the Beaten Track not only illuminates the personal relationships that underwrote the key developments in modern science, but also forms the most intimate look at Feynman yet available. Feynman was a man many felt close to but few really knew, and this collection reveals the full wisdom and private passion of a personality that captivated everyone it touched. Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From the Beaten Track is an eloquent testimony to the virtue of approaching the world with an inquiring eye; it demonstrates the full extent of the Feynman legacy like never before. Edited and with additional commentary by his daughter Michelle, it's a must-read for Feynman fans everywhere, and for anyone seeking to better understand one of the towering figures-and defining personalities-of the twentieth century

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Review:

Finding out about someone by reading their correspondence is a fundamentally different thing than reading their biography. Letters offer both more intimacy with the subject and at the same time a crucial distance--the exact distance the letter-writer intended from the people to whom he was writing. In Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, Michelle Feynman collects her famous father's letters to reveal a warm, honest man with high expectations for himself, his loved ones, and the human race. Long before Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize, he was a smart, skinny graduate student at Princeton, writing letters to his mother and relating the mundane details of college life. "Dear Mom.... The raincoat came O.K. It is very nice," he writes. By the time he finished his Ph.D., Feynman had fallen for Arline Greenbaum, who had already been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Their tragically short marriage is set in letters against Feynman's first job--working on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Even while working on top secret physics, Feynman was an enthusiastic correspondent, jumping eagerly at the chance to encourage a young scientist, correct a public misperception, or tell a goofy joke to his family. Self-effacing, charmingly down to earth, and occasionally cranky, these letters cover Feynman's entire career, although in the fits and starts one would expect from a collection such as this. His own words to students, spouses, daughters, and fellow scientists reveal Feynman's brilliance far more effectively than any biographical lens ever could. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Richard P. Feynman was raised in Far Rockaway, New York, and received his Ph.D. from Princeton. He held professorships at both Cornell and the California Institute of Technology. In 1965 he received the Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics. He died in 1988.

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