Review of “Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science,” by Lawrence M. Krauss

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was a colorful, eccentric (some might even say wacky), brilliant thinker who is generally considered one of the two or three leading physicists of the latter half of the twentieth century. His varied interests and delightful sense of humor have put his whimsical memoirs (such as Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?) in continual demand. Krauss’s new biography touches on, but does not dwell upon, Feynman’s eccentricities.

Krauss is a physicist himself and avoids rehearsing the oft-repeated details about Feynman’s personal life to devote the preponderance of the book to the content of Feynman’s work and its place in modern physics. The book contains no equations, but does utilize several “Feynman diagrams,” a famous, pictographic technique Feynman developed to describe the interactions in quantum electrodynamics (QED). In spite of Krauss’s desire to appeal to a lay audience, however, this book is by no means an easy read, dealing as it does with such issues as virtual particles and vacuum polarizations. Most of Feynman’s scientific contributions were densely mathematical and quite abstruse. There is simply no way to explain his significance and scientific legacy without delving into some pretty recondite material.

Example of Feynman Diagrams

Feynman captured the imagination of America’s “intelligent laymen,” somewhat because of his oversized personality and ability to self-promote. Krauss’s biography is an effort to help those intelligent laymen go beyond Feynman’s personality to get to his actual intellectual contributions. It isn’t easy, and probably requires a little more background in math and physics than is common to most, but it is worth the effort if you are interested in understanding modern physics.

For those who just want to know about Feynman the “character,” you can hardly do better than his own memoirs, or even a charming article by his nephew about what it was like for Feynman’s sister Joan (also a distinguished physicist) to grow up in their crazy household.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by W. W. Norton & Company, 2011

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4 Responses to Review of “Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science,” by Lawrence M. Krauss

  1. zibilee says:

    I am quite sure that this book would go way over my head, but I am glad that you enjoyed it and found it interesting. I want to find out more, so I will be checking out your Library Thing review!

  2. Alyce says:

    It sounds interesting, but I do think it would be one of those books where I would read the same sentence over and over and then realized I wasn’t ever going to understand it (at least not without a very good teacher standing next to me). 🙂

  3. Staci says:

    I wish I had the intellect to appreciate this type of book!!

  4. Julie P. says:

    I feel so inadequate! 🙂

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