Page1   Page 2    Page 3    Page 4   Back
7th July 2002 - Page 4

Fun-loving genius

Book review

“Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman!”

by Richard P. Feynman

Ever laughed out loud and scratched your head at the same time? Well, then read this book. It's more a collection of anecdotes than a biography, but it gives you an amusing and insightful glimpse into one of the greatest minds of our time: that of Richard Feynman.

Mr. Feynman was an incredibly talented and versatile man. He was also full of mischief, adventure and was a great practical joker. He dared to do what no others would. Even though he won the Nobel Prize for Physics, he shatters all those visions in your mind of stereotypical dull, lab-coat bearing professors with glasses like binoculars. He was a genius, as he was exceptionally intelligent, and could accomplish whatever he put his mind to. Not only would he accomplish it, but he would also become the best at whatever he did.

For example, he once became interested in drumming on a visit to Brazil, and since then he has been an avid bongo player and even played in a band. He once had a bet with an eccentric friend he got acquainted with while drumming. Apparently, this fellow took off his shirt, sprayed shaving cream all over his chest in funny patterns, hung cherries from his ears and started dancing, so, quite naturally, they became good friends right away. This friend was an artist, and Feynman (who could only draw pyramids consisting mainly of straight lines) bet that he wouldn't be able to teach him how to draw. Well, Feynman practised as hard as he could for quite some time, and he got quite good at it. He ended up with an exhibition of his own art in Caltech, and built up quite a reputation as an artist.

He once had a bet with an eccentric friend

he got acquainted with while drumming.

Apparently, this fellow took off his shirt, sprayed shaving cream

all over himself, hung cherries from his ears

and started dancing. Quite naturally, they became good friends.

When he was working to develop the nuclear bomb as a physicist in Los Alamos, a friend of his taught him how to pick locks. From there he moved on to teaching himself about safecracking. In the end, he became a legend among safecrackers. Other safecrackers may have opened safes containing precious documents and gold bullion, but he cracked the 3 main safes containing all the nuclear secrets behind the atomic bomb. Of course his intentions were perfectly harmless… he needed a document from a fellow researcher who wasn't there at the time. Feynman left a note inside saying that he had borrowed a document. Then he found that the other two safes had the same combination, so he decided to have some fun with his colleague. In the other two cabinets he wrote elusive messages such "this was no harder than the others." When his friend returned and checked the safes, he went pale with horror (he had read the elusive anonymous message and not the signed one!) Of course later everything was sorted out, and Feynman became a legend in yet another field.

This book brings out Mr. Feynman's belief in learning by understanding, not by rote, his refusal to give up on seemingly insoluble problems, and a total disrespect for fancy ideas that have little or no grounding in the real world. It makes you marvel at his intellect, and inspires you to do more and go further. His knowledge had no bounds: he would explore domains that no one even dreamt of: whether it was in study the behaviour of ants, take apart locks and study them, fix radios by thinking first, recognize a book by its smell, or even formulating an equation for the wobble of a plate thrown in the air. He was a jack of all trades, a master of all spheres. This book is truly inspirational, along with being laugh-out-loud funny. After reading the chapter on safecracking, I took apart the locks on my cupboards, and picked those of my drawers (I'm not kidding!) It is a must read for people of all ages. It enlightens you, and to uncover why things happen the way they do. I would like to elaborate on more of his anecdotes, but I can't for lack of space. So read this book, and dive into the greatest minds of our time.

                                                                                                                                                                    Aatish Bhatia

Editorial Board: Aatish Bhatia, Shivin Marya, Pallavi Raghavan, Neha Chopra, Shivani Suhag, Shruti Sharma, Priya Mallik, Saloni Mira Rai, Siddhanth Aney, Saurav Roy (Sports Editor), and Akhil Wable (Editor)

Page1   Page 2    Page 3    Page 4   Back