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memoir and outrageous observations of physicist Richard P. Feynman
A series of anecdotes shouldn't by rights add up to an autobiography, but that's just one of the many pieces of
received wisdom that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) cheerfully ignores in his engagingly
eccentric book, a bestseller ever since its initial publication in 1985. Fiercely independent (read the chapter
entitled "Judging Books by Their Covers"), intolerant of stupidity even when it comes packaged as high intellectualism
(check out "Is Electricity Fire?"), unafraid to offend (see "You Just Ask Them?"), Feynman informs by entertaining.
It's possible to enjoy Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman simply as a bunch of hilarious yarns with the smart-alecky
author as know-it-all hero. At some point, however, attentive readers realize that underneath all the merriment
simmers a running commentary on what constitutes authentic knowledge: learning by understanding, not by rote; refusal
to give up on seemingly insoluble problems; and total disrespect for fancy ideas that have no grounding in the real
world. Feynman himself had all these qualities in spades, and they come through with vigor and verve in his no-bull
prose. No wonder his students--and readers around the world--adored him. --Wendy Smith