Richard Feynman is a Nobel prize winning physicist with a knack for just about everything outside his field. He is a top-notch prankster, safe-cracker, musician (with a knack for the frigideira and the drums), artist. And while reading Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! I found myself thinking, “How does he find the time for all this?” It doesn’t add up at first. He obviously has a very successful academic life, a social life, many talents and hobbies that he has picked up over the years and manages to juggle them all perfectly.
After giving this question some thought, I guess I know how he finds the time after all. And this is also what I’ve learned from this book. When you’re brave and confident and not stuck on the details, when all you want is to have a good time with what you’re doing, you can make the time.
And this is what’s wonderful about Feynman. He enjoys everything he does. He loves his job, physics, teaching, research, all of it. And he loves life and adding to himself. This is the impression I get from the book, at least. It’s all very inspiring to read about, and funny too- the physics professor who had to sleep on the couch, the Nobel prize winner who went to schools under fake names to not draw attention and gave talks, the troublemaker who kept cracking the safes at Los Alamos.
This book was orally told by Feynman and edited by his friend, Ralph Leighton. Though I’m definitely no expert, (I’ve only read a handful of other memoirs) it sort of shows through that Feynman wasn’t a novelist, or maybe even a passionate reader (though I do not know if this is true). His style is wonderful in the way that it doesn’t exhaust you and his honestly is very endearing. Still, I just think that you can sort of see that Feynman wasn’t a literary sort of guy. And that’s okay because his book is entertaining as it is.
Before I end this short review, I want to talk about this part, which I adore the most.
“And then I thought to myself, “You know, what they think of you is so fantastic, it’s impossible to live up to it. You have no responsibility to live up to it!”
Isn’t it a wonderfully relieving thought? I wish I’d read Feynman back when I was in high school, preparing for my university entrance exams. It’s okay kiddo. You don’t have to rank so high on exams. No need to stress. You’re not obliged to be the pride of anyone. Not even yourself. As Feynman puts it: “It’s their mistake, not my failing.”
All in all, Feynman is a lot of fun to read. He’s really cool without being all in-your-face about it. It’s inspiring to watch him accomplish wonderful things through sheer hard work. And he gives some really nice advice in between.