Books About and By Richard Feynman

After Albert Einstein, one of the most colorful and loved physicists of the twentieth century was probably CalTech physicist Richard P. Feynman, who became known not only for his work in popularizing physics, but also for sharing the stories about his own irreverent life and approach to physics research. He worked on the problems that he found interesting, because he found them interesting, and ended up winning a Nobel prize for his revolutionary work on quantum electrodynamics. A study of his life not only helps understand the important developments of quantum physics, but also the way a theoretical physicist works. Books by and about Feynman are also enjoyable in their own right, as indicated by some of the many colorful and entertaining Feynman quotes that have become popular among physicists.

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Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

Cover of the book Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick, a graphic novel about the life of physicist Richard P. Feynman. Leland Myrick/First Second

This graphic novel approach to Feynman's life definitely does a great job of capturing the man's character. Feynman himself serves as the narrator, and the visual medium is perfect for illustrating (so to speak) some of Feynman's greatest insights into physics. He was a man who sought to understand theoretical physics in a real and practical way. It definitely helps if you have some basic knowledge of Feynman's work before you read this book. While it's certainly enjoyable as a biography of such a complex man, I'm not sure that this book, by itself, will provide enough scientific context to understand what Feynman was doing. Feynman was published in late summer 2011.

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Quantum Man: Feynman's Life in Science by Lawrence Krauss

Cover of Quantum Man by Lawrence Krauss. W. W. Norton & Company

In contrast to Feynman (the book mentioned above), this 2011 book on Richard P. Feynman's life focuses primarily on the exploration of his scientific work, minimizing (a bit too much, in my way of thinking) his personal life. It is probably one of the best books for a layman scientist - or even a trained scientist who doesn't work in theoretical quantum physics - to get a handle on the scientific concepts that Feynman spent his life developing. Pretty much every scientist could benefit from reading this book, because Feynman had some profound insights on how science should be performed, and Krauss does an excellent job of portraying that aspect of Feynman's work.

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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman

Cover to "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" by Richard P. Feynman. Bantam Dell Publishing

In this classic collection of autobiographical stories, published in 1985, Feynman relates some of the events of his life, including his period at Los Alamos, working for the Manhattan Project ... an era when he experimented with safecracking and became rather adept at it, frequently triggering the frustration of the military staff who were, of course, very concerned about security. It also chronicles his youth and coming of age, with trademark wit (and possibly a bit of exaggeration).

The volume is also available in a dual audiobook edition, together with its companion volume (dare I say sequel) What Do You Care What Other People Think? (the next book on the list).

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What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard Feynman

Cover of the book What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P. Feynman. W.W. Norton & Co.

This second collection of autobiographical stories, published in 1988, follows on the successful heels of Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and relates the tragic story of Feynman's first love. While it would certainly be easy for Feynman to be depressing when discussing how his first wife died, he instead paints it as a moving tale, balancing between her disease and his work at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, a story which became the basis of the film Infinity, starring Matthew Broderick as Feynman.

In addition, this book provides him an opportunity to discuss his role on the commission to discover the cause of the Challenger disaster.

This book is also available as a joint audiobook edition with Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

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The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist by Richard Feynman

Cover from The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist by Richard P. Feynman.

This book is compiled from a series of lectures that Feynman gave in 1963 when he was experimenting with trying to apply his thinking as a scientist to ideas outside of science, such as religion, politics, morality, and social issues of the day. In the end, he wasn't particularly pleased with the results and he decided that he was better off sticking with science, but he did collect the essays together (polished up a bit) and created this nice volume, which is probably only really of interest to the real Feynman-o-phile or someone who wants to understand how the tools of science can be applied (or, more often, mis-applied) to explore less tangible and testable ideas.