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

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

The Bottom Line

This book is a great look into the inner workings of one of physics' most creative characters, Richard P. Feynman. The major draw of the book is Feynman's extensive discussion of his involvement in the investigation of the Challenger disaster, which allows him to provide a case study in the differences between scientific and bureaucratic inquiry methods.

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Pros

  • Fantastic look into the Challenger disaster investigation.
  • An autobiographical look at one of physics most creative characters.

Cons

  • Even though dealing with highly emotional subjects, the book never really touches the heart.
  • The stories are not as entertaining as the earlier autobiographical volume.

Description

  • Originally published in 1988 by W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Subtitled Further Adventures of a Curious Character
  • This review is based on an unabridged audiobook version, combined with Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman.
  • This book was the basis for the film Infinity, starring Matthew Broderick as Feynman

Guide Review - What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P. Feynman

This book is somewhat of a sequel to the enjoyable . Though not strictly autobiographies, these two books do comprise an extensive collection of stories about Feynman's life as told by Feynman.

The stories in the first book, however, were a bit more fun. In this later book, Feynman is far more contemplative, focusing instead on stories about his father and first wife, Arline.

Instead of focusing on his adventures as an adult scientist, he seems instead to be focusing on the forces which formed him into the man, and scientist, that he became.

Arline died of tuberculosis while he worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, but the story is strangely unemotional when Feynman relates it.

In part, this is because he himself had trouble emotionally connecting with the pain of the death ... he didn't cry for about a month.

No, the emotional moments that Feynman relates are strangely flat, but the intellectual ones are spot on the mark. Nowhere is this more evident than in the portion of the book which relates Feynman's involvement with the Presidential commission to investigate the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

Here Feynman's wit shines through, as he wryly comments on various aspects of the bureaucratic process. He is a fish out of water in Washington, D.C., where even the simplest things have to be made complex. The commission, for example, holds a closed session and then an open session ... wherein they discuss exactly the same material as they did in the closed session. It makes no sense to him and drives him to distraction.

Though he gets along well enough with the other members of the commission, he is used to working on projects that achieve actual results, which clearly is not the active goal of the commission. His voice really shines through as he describes his juggling of the bureaucratic demands with the desire to get to the heart of a problem.