So, last week I promised to talk a bit about the new Feynman graphic biography by Ottaviani and Myrick. I first saw the book advertised in Scientific American, and then later they did some guest panels for Kate Beaton, so there was a pretty big steam of excitement already built up coming into the book. Feynman was a hero of my mother’s and so, vicariously, for me as well growing up. She had the old Lectures, with the red cloth cover, which I was always stealing off with. A fair percentage of my decision to attend CalTech after high school was the fact that I’d be sitting in the same classroom where Feynman once taught (he’d been dead for ten years at that point, but still). Before that, it was reading Surely You’re Joking in seventh grade that decided me on putting away my gallant dreams of leading the San Diego Padres to the World Series through a combination of flawless pitching and tactical batsmanship, and start reading science seriously. Richard Feynman was one of my first genuine heroes, and still is.
So, I had a lot of personal investment in this volume, and with that comes worry – would this book be a unidimensional catalogue of his zany character quirks and adventures that misses the unique flavor of his serious work? I let it rest on my desk for a couple of days before I cracked it open, and once I did, I didn’t stop reading it until reaching the end. It’s simply great – it captures fully the flavor of the two memoirs that I loved so much back in the day, along with how all of that biographical material interweaves with his scientific method. It is a book that makes you want to sit down and Do Science. If it ever comes out in softcover, I’m making it required reading for the students in my physics class. The highest praise that I can think of for it is that it feels entirely like what Feynman himself would have produced if he got it in his head to write his life story as a graphic novel. It paces itself Feynmanically (lets all pretend that’s a word and move on), and all of the material makes perfect sense in the context of the man and his work. And extra points for giving fair space to Feynman’s wonderful QED lectures.
Also, for book hawks, the bibliography is a nice source to mine for new things to read about the scientists and leading figures responsible for the development of QED – Schwinger, Tomonaga, and the rest. It’s a nice touch to keep you going deeper.
– Count Dolby von Luckner