The Bottom Line
- Feynman's classic charm and style comes across well in this series of essays.
- The stories brilliantly demonstrate the inner workings of a scientist's mind.
- The stories may well be exaggerated.
- 350 pages
- Available in both paperback and hardcover.
- This review is based on an audiobook version, combined with What Do You Care What Other People Think.
Guide Review - Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman
The stories go roughly chronologically in order, starting as a boy in his hometown of Far Rockaway, Queens, New York. He grew up faking Italian swearing so well that he even fooled some people who knew Italian (a skill that would later serve him well in speaking Chinese ... or at least convincing people he could).
The stories that will probably interest most readers are those more directly related to physics, such as his college years, his time at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project, and years as a college professor and research. One of the most commonly known tales is that Feynman become something of an adept safecracker during his time at Los Alamos, where he was able to access a large number of safes ... some of which would have contained documents vital to national security.
One of Feynman's intriguing traits is that he had an interesting view of what it meant to be a real man. Many of his adventures come as he tries to apply his specific brand of machismo, even when he's not particularly suited for it.
Feynman is an irreverent figure, which comes across well in his telling of these stories. This is one of the things that make him so likable. He's something of a brilliant misanthrope, such as when he spoke too candidly to the psychologist and got rejected from the World War II draft for mental reasons, only to later go on and be assigned to the Manhattan Project.