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Swami

Ed Regis, 26 May 1994

The Beat of a Different Drum: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman 
by Jagdish Mehra.
Oxford, 630 pp., £25, March 1994, 0 19 853948 7
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... Richard Feynman was the world’s number-one physicist (after Einstein), a well-known genius, a self-described ‘curious character’ who was involved in some of the formative events of 20th-century science: the Manhattan Project, quantum mechanics, the birth of quantum electrodynamics. Feynman’s mind roamed over every conceivable branch of Science ...

Milk and Lemon

Steven Shapin: The Excesses of Richard Feynman, 7 July 2005

Don’t You Have Time to Think? The Letters of Richard Feynman 
edited by Michelle Feynman.
Allen Lane, 486 pp., £20, June 2005, 0 7139 9847 4
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... you think they’ve got a genuine vocation for science. After winning the 1965 prize in physics, Richard Feynman seems to have answered them all. He had been notorious for not answering letters, but the occasion appears to have got the better of him. Most writers received a formulaic response. Feynman told Lyndon ...

Mental Arithmetic

Nicholas Wade, 7 January 1993

Genius: Richard Feynman and Modern Physics 
by James Gleick.
Little, Brown, 532 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90316 7
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... Richard Feynman was one of the élite group of American and British physicists who developed atomic weapons with the Manhattan project in the Second World War. He flashed back into the public eye in 1965, when he won a share of the Nobel physics prize, and again two decades later when his formidable presence on the committee inquiring into the crash of the Challenger space shuttle forced the cause of the disaster into the open ...

Bits

Catherine Caufield, 18 May 1989

Three Scientists and their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information 
by Robert Wright.
Times, 324 pp., $18.95, April 1988, 0 8129 1328 0
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Coming of Age in the Milky Way 
by Timothy Ferris.
Bodley Head, 495 pp., £14.95, May 1989, 0 370 31332 1
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Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St John 
by Isaac Newton.
Modus Vivendi, 323 pp., £800
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What do you care what other people think? Further Adventures of a Curious Character 
by Richard Feynman.
Unwin Hyman, 255 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 04 440341 0
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... cells, ant colonies, telephone systems, supermarket chains, television and religion. As his hero, Richard Feynman, might have said, Ed Fredkin is a very interesting guy. He is, among other things, a self-made millionaire without a college degree who became a full professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before he was 35. Fredkin’s ...

French Air

John Sutherland, 12 November 1987

The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Miriam Kochan.
Berg, 307 pp., £18, November 1986, 0 907582 47 8
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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by John Woods.
Penguin, 263 pp., £3.95, September 1987, 0 14 009244 7
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The Double Bass 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Hamish Hamilton, 57 pp., £8.95, September 1987, 9780241120392
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... In his autobiographical papers, Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman?, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, describes being piqued by an article in Science about how well bloodhounds can smell. Feynman hates not being best, and so he took time off from inventing the atom bomb (he was working at Los Alamos) to run an experiment ...

Nuclear Family

Rudolf Peierls, 19 June 1980

Disturbing the Universe 
by Freeman Dyson.
Harper and Row, 283 pp., £6.95, November 1979, 0 06 011108 9
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... specific questions for the theory to answer. Responding to this challenge, Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman invented novel ways of tackling the problem. Some of the steps had already been taken earlier by Sin-Itiro Tomonaga in Japan. Dyson was the first to understand the approaches both of Schwinger and of ...

Thinking

Peter Campbell, 4 August 1988

Who got Einstein’s office? Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study 
by Ed Regis.
Simon and Schuster, 316 pp., £12.95, April 1988, 0 671 69923 7
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Chaos 
by James Gleick.
Heinemann, 354 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 9780434295548
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The School of Genius 
by Anthony Storr.
Deutsch, 216 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 233 98010 5
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... I was in Los Angeles this spring on the day Richard Feynman died. The next morning I saw a banner lowered from the top of the tower block which stands in the middle of the Caltech campus. It read: ‘WE LOVE YOU DICK.’ The obituary of Feynman in the LA Times was awed and affectionate ...

Thinking big

Peter Campbell, 26 September 1991

Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition 
by Ed Regis.
Viking, 308 pp., £16.99, September 1991, 0 670 83855 1
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... in challenging the limits of existing technology. In 1959, long before he had won his Nobel Prize, Richard Feynman encouraged people to think small by offering a couple of prizes of his own: $1000 dollars for an electric motor which would fit into a cube with 1/64 of an inch sides, and another $1000 for a page of text 1/250,000th of its normal size, in a ...

Short Cuts

Christian Lorentzen: ‘Head Shot’, 24 May 2012

... He contrasts it with the commission that investigated the Challenger explosion, which included Richard Feynman, one of Chambers’s heroes, and had the sole purpose of preventing other space shuttles from exploding. Chambers also notes that Gerald Ford, a single-bullet booster, changed the wording of the report from ‘a bullet had entered his back at ...

Desmondism

John Sutherland, 23 March 1995

Huxley: The Devil’s Disciple 
by Adrian Desmond.
Joseph, 474 pp., £20, November 1994, 0 7181 3641 1
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... Dictionary, and I cannot find even a cognate for the tongue-twisting ‘rhamphorhynchus’). Richard Feynman supposedly turned away requests to explain quantum physics with the jest that if you were smart enough to understand how he won the Nobel Prize, you, too, could win it. Against the odds, Adrian Desmond has produced a string of popular and ...

What’s the hurry?

Ed Regis, 24 June 1993

Dreams of a Final Theory 
by Steven Weinberg.
Radius, 260 pp., £16.99, January 1993, 0 09 177395 4
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... by the discovery of a final theory.’ Against the claim that new physics requires new data, Richard Feynman once remarked: ‘I used to think that physics would more or less end as experiments became more expensive and therefore rarer. But it was just the reverse! I underestimated the human tendency to speculate. When there are fewer ...

Oops

Philip Nobel: What makes things break, 21 February 2013

To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure 
by Henry Petroski.
Harvard, 410 pp., £19.95, March 2012, 978 0 674 06584 0
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... at Nasa had claimed the programme would have a success rate of 99.999 per cent. Petroski cites Richard Feynman, who, observing that this implied the space agency ‘could put up a shuttle each day for three hundred years expecting to lose only one’, asked: ‘What is the cause of management’s fantastic faith in the machinery?’ It wasn’t shared ...

Boiling Electrons

David Kaiser, 27 September 2012

Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe 
by George Dyson.
Allen Lane, 401 pp., £25, March 2012, 978 0 7139 9750 7
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... a process recounted in David Alan Grier’s When Computers Were Human. Young physicists like Richard Feynman carved up the calculations into discrete steps, and then assistants – often the young wives of the laboratory’s technical staff – would crunch the numbers, each one performing the same mathematical operation over and over again. One of ...

Nobel Savage

Steven Shapin: Kary Mullis, 1 July 1999

Dancing Naked in the Mind Field 
by Kary Mullis.
Bloomsbury, 209 pp., £12.99, March 1999, 0 7475 4376 3
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... that his thoughts strayed to ‘popsies’ even while working hard on the structure of DNA; Richard Feynman enjoyed having himself photographed playing the bongos, and, like Kary Mullis, broadcast his enthusiasm for topless bars: ‘When my calculations didn’t work out,’ Feynman said, ‘I would watch the ...

Intergalactic Jesus

Jerry Coyne: Darwinian Christians, 9 May 2002

Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? The Relationship between Science and Religion 
by Michael Ruse.
Cambridge, 242 pp., £16.95, December 2001, 0 521 63144 0
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... is probably the one that rests most heavily on potentially verifiable claims about reality. As Richard Dawkins observes, Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims. The same is true of many of the major doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. The Virgin birth, the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Resurrection of ...

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