Saturday, October 08, 2005

Book Review: Don't You Have Time To Think?

Two weeks back I happened to come across this book "Don't You Have Time To Think?" by Richard P. Feynman. Being a Feynman fan, I bought the book then and there. After reading the book for a few pages I came to know that it was not a book by Feynman, rather it was a collection of his letters edited by his daughter Michelle Feynman.

Since the letters reveal much more personal details compared to lectures or other books, I guessed I would come to know much more about Feynman than I had known from "Surely You're Joking" and "What Do You Care?" True to my expectations the book brings out the soul of Feynman.

The letters have been organized chronologically beginning from his college life, love life, professional life and finally till his death. And I believe his daughter has done a very good job in selecting the letters for each stage in his life.

Some of the letters contains puzzles for his father to solve, others contain professional advice to people. Some are about his resignation at National Academy of Sciences. But the most interesting are the letters exchanged between him and his love Arline. These bring out the deepest sentiments of Feynman. The letter to Arline after her death is very touchy. Most people know much about his love of physics and not much about his personal relationships. I believe this collection of letters will tell the other side about him.

Letters from his professional life contain advice to students like "Follow your passion" or "You must fall in love with some activity". Then there is the National Academy of Sciences episode which is very entertaining. His disgust for such associations is very much highlighted. One letter is about how he wanted to unsubscribe the Physics Review magazine despite the best efforts of its editors.

From his letters, it looks like he responded to letters from ordinary people, total strangers, and some cranks too. He was receptive to the ideas of laymen and encouraged them to proceed in proper direction. Most of his letters to these people were written in most humble and modest style. In one letter to a student he admitted his own error in one of his books by saying, "I made a mistake, so the book is wrong ... and you goofed too, for believing me".

In one of his letters he expressed his disbelief in God by saying that "The idea of God watching all good and evil on this earth" did not fascinate him and told his own conviction that "The stage is too big for this drama". Definitely the universe is so large enough that the good and evil going on earth is of no concern in the vast scheme of things. Another letter with philosophical content deals with the problems of wealth.

The book convinces the reader that he was a person in love with almost everything. But according to Feynman, he was above all in love with physics, "This is, in my mind, of even more importance than my love for Arline". I believe the fire and passion of physics kept him in his high spirits even after Arline's death.

Thanks to Michelle Feynman for bringing out this entertaining collection. To all the Feynman fans: go and grab a copy. To those who are not fans as yet: please grab a copy to become one.

Note: The book is published in USA with a different title "Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From The Beaten Track".


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7:04 PM  
Anonymous Captain Jack Sparrow said...

Thanks for reviewing this book about Feynman. I have only read "Surely You're Joking" and became a great fan of his writing - specially narrative skills he showed in that book.

I'll definitely grab a copy of this book.

I'll suggest you publish this book review in some newspaper or magazine.

6:42 PM  

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