The rare combination of humility and genius is as beautiful as it is surprising, especially when encountered in one of the greatest physicists of the modern age. These three lectures, given at the University of Washington in 1963, explore a variety of unscientific topics–from politics to religion–and surprisingly, do not provide any answers. What they do give, however, is the opportunity to see non-scientific issues from the point of view of a scientific genius. This point of view is very different from the arrogant, condescending, closed-minded attitude that comes across from many figures in popular science, who seem to feel that their expertise in a narrow field qualifies them to make pronouncements on everything. In fact, the emotion that stands out most in these lectures is doubt. Not a lazy, depressing, hopeless sort of doubt, but a humble, searching doubt that fuels relentless curiosity. Feynman seems unwaveringly respectful of opinions and beliefs that contradict his own, while applying a formidable intellect and rational approach to the less scientific aspects of human existence.
Why I read it: I’ve enjoyed the two other books by Feynman I’ve read (QED and Six Easy Pieces) and jumped at the chance to read a less challenging book by him when I came across it in Henderson Books.
This book contains six accessible, non-technical lectures from Feynman’s famous Caltech physics course:
1. Atoms in Motion
2. Basic Physics
3. The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences
4. Conservation of Energy
5. The Theory of Gravitation
6. Quantum Behavior
Feynman’s genius, contagious enthusiasm, conversational tone, ability to simplify concepts without dumbing them down, and knack for creating memorable explanations, combine to form a book that allows non-geniuses like myself an intoxicating glimpse into the dazzling world of physics.
[Why I read it: I admit I’m a bit addicted to having my mind blown by theoretical and quantum physics. Also, I had previously developed a minor crush on Feynman during a lecture by my college physics teacher, who had an even bigger crush on him. So when I came across this book in Hay-on-Wye, it was a no-brainer to buy it.]