Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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What Do You Care What Other People Think?

Posted 16 May 10 by Tatyana

My most recent read is "What Do You Care What Other People Think?”, another collection of anecdotes by Richard Feynman (the the sequel to "Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”). I expected the first book to be a standard dry-ish biography, and it was anything but. The second book is just as good.

It’s not clear whether Feynman actually wrote all the stories; the first page of the book has the subtitle "as told to Ralph Leighton”. The book was first published soon after Feynman’s death.

After reading the first book, my impression was that Feynman was a brilliant scientist, but also arrogant and slightly out of touch with the world. This second collection paints him as much more humble (though still somewhat arrogant and definitely brilliant), intuitive, and caring.

The first half of the book is much more personal. It tells the story of Feynman’s first marriage and has a chapter filled with letters written by or about Feynman. The second half is all about the investigation of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. Feynman was on the commission that investigated the causes of the disaster. The writing paints a rich picture of how space shuttles work, NASA, Washington, and 1980′s technology. There are even diagrams of the shuttle parts. This is all interacted with Feynman’s  cleverness, mischievousness, and intolerance of BS, bureaucracy, and authority.

My absolutely favorite part is the epilogue, a speech called "The Value of Science”, given by Feynman in 1955 to the National Academy of Sciences. You can (and should) read it here.

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