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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)

Richard P. Feynman, Ralph Leighton, Edward Hutchings, Albert R. Hibbs · 22 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
A New York Times bestseller―the outrageous exploits of one of this century's greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original. Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, thrived on outrageous adventures. Here he recounts in his inimitable voice his experience trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek; cracking the uncrackable safes guarding the most deeply held nuclear secrets; accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums; painting a naked female toreador. In short, here is Feynman's life in all its eccentric―a combustible mixture of high intelligence, unlimited curiosity, and raging chutzpah. Black-and-white photographs throughout
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
– Economics / sociology –

A Farewell to Alms

Cartesian Economics

The 10,000 Year Explosion

The Righteous Mind


– Philosophy –

Tao Te Ching


– Autobiography –

Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman

Recollections of Eugene Wigner

– Fiction –

Fahrenheit 451


> Dune

Do you mind explaining what's great about Dune (I have not read it yet, so maybe without major spoilers ...)?

It's a Messiah story set in the far future. I included it here because it had an impact on the way I understand history (I prefer to leave that a bit cryptic).

As a work of fiction I'd call it good but not great. But at the moment I can't think of a work of fiction I'd call great, so I'm probably not the best critic on that point.

Everybody seemed to hate the 1984 film adaptation by David Lynch but I think it's pretty good. The Syfy miniseries got much better reviews but I thought it was only so-so. The film doesn't really spoil the book, which is kinda cool, but may be easier to follow and more fun to watch after having read it. Last but not least, I really enjoyed the recent documentary Jodorowsky's Dune...

Feynman has many interesting stories about playing about with all sorts of stuff from picking locks to the Manhattan project. His book, "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!" is just a fantastic read:
The sequel, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?": Further Adventures of a Curious Character [1] is also excellent, and includes his account of serving on the commission that investigated the Challenger disaster.

[1] or part of the buy it together bundle in wimagguc's link

Funny, but I get the impression from that book's narrative of the Challenger disaster that Feynmann was in the role of someone else's "useful genius."
Minds, Brains and Machines by Geoffrey Brown [1] for introducing me to the complexities of the mind-body problem. It did not show the answers of course, but helped me think right about it.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse [2] for contributing to helping me come out of excessive questioning of everything (philosophy) to science that helps towards actually answering the questions answerable.

Feynman Lectures in Physics [3] and Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman [4], with no need to explain "how". :-)

The Ghost in the Atom [5] for explaining varied views on the nature of science, especially Quantum Mechanics, and what goes in the minds of the top-notch scientists working on these problems.

Parsing Techniques by Dick Grune [6] for teaching me the fundamentals of computer science and helping me proceed with my deep interest in Artificial Intelligence.







Here's Richard Feynman on sensory deprivation tanks:

From his book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"[1].


Direct link
Even more direct link
May 05, 2013 · rckrd on The Feynman File (2005)
Interesting read, but if anyone is interested in more personal anecdotes like this, I suggest:



Apr 30, 2013 · mylons on Avoiding Burnout
There are more anecdotal stories like this in this book:

Feynman's entire approach to life seems to be to "play" with it. He's an expert troll, the original pick up artist, nobel prize winning physicist, guest biologist, expert safe cracker, computer programmer, etc. His stories are fantastic, and a reminder that life is a ride. You should enjoy the ride, above all else.

possibly because he existed "before PC"

Or more likely because the situation, context and Feynman's actions were highly dissimilar. If you haven't had a chance, take a look at the story in the original source, it's a lot more detailed than an aside in a PG essay.

Jan 13, 2013 · hkmurakami on Jonathan James
If you're interested in reading more about it, his shenanigans are told in further detail in "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!"

Thank you for re-re-re-reminding me to read that.

link for anyone else who's been meaning to read this:

I recommend:

It has both "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" in a nice hardcover.

Jun 22, 2012 · lithelulu on Ask HN: Summer reading
Depends on what you're interested in. Do you want something heavy and factual?

Do you want a first-hand account?

Any particular area of science that interests you?

Also, if you want something non-fictional and thrilling, look into accounts of epidemology.

Also, I read alot of medical thrillers which are fiction by the author Robin Cook. There are many true facts about science mixed in so you might want to consider that.

I highly recommend both of Feynman's memoirs:

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!",

"What Do You Care What Other People Think?"

He's of course a good writer. But if you didn't know any better, you'd think him to be a sort of adult-Pollyanna, someone of innocent optimism and immense curiosity. It reminds me a lot of reading Woz's autobiography, in fact; I guess it makes sense that this characteristic of constantly questioning and challenging the norms is what leads to great innovation.

In a chapter from "Surely You're Joking", Feynman describes how he was curious about the accepted fact that dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans. So he went around sniffing objects held by humans, even getting down on the carpet on his hands and knees to see if he could smell his own footprints:

It's an amusing story, but one that is very telling of Feynman's insatiable curiosity and scientific mind. He did these smell-experiments not as a child, but when he was a scientist at Los Alamos.

But if you didn't know any better, you'd think him to be a sort of adult-Pollyanna, someone of innocent optimism and immense curiosity.

And you're saying he wasn't? Based on what information?

Sorry, what I meant was, if you didn't know he was a brilliant scientist (and learned in many other areas), you would think he was someone of only those qualities, rather than someone who has those qualities and was also a stellar intellectual and scientist. IMO, sometimes those qualities are seen as mutually exclusive.
There is a third one: "The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out".

It has some duplicates from the other two books, but it also has some new stories.

Really fun reads. Great to give to people who think anything 'sciency' is stuffy:) I love this old Horizon as well:
Feynman didn´t write the book himself. It is an edited version of the taped conversations of Feynman with Ralph Leighton.
I'll take your word for it. Though "Surely You're Joking" reads very closely in style to his letter and with "What Do You Care What Other People Think?", in which he's listed as author with Ralph Leighton as editor.
I know Ralph Leighton personally, and Gus is right. In fact, the same goes for The Feynman Lectures on Physics: Feynman gave the lectures, and other people took the transcripts and turned them into book.† This was harder than anyone expected it to be.

†I served as Caltech's editor for The Feynman Lectures on Physics: The Definitive and Extended Edition, which came out in 2005.

There's an audio recording of him telling some of his tales, as well as him playing bongo drums.

Safecracker Suite: Drumming and Storytelling

Read something REALLY fun, enlightening and TRUE: Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a curious character) and What do you care what other people think (Further adventures of a curious character)



Then this will be the most interesting book you've read this year:
The book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! sounds like it would be a great read for you.

As far as mailing lists go, I also would be interested in this.

I've read it, and love it! One of my favorites, I reread it every so often solely because Feynman is so awesome :)
For those who dont know

This is an excerpt from the awesome book "Surely you're joking Mr. Feyman" The whole book is full of short anecdotes like this and is an amazing read.

Edit: spelling

I think you mean anecdotes :)
I'm late to this party, so I'll give you two quick pointers: "You and Your Research" by Richard Hamming [0], and "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" [1]

Read both in their entirety.

You will gain a new perspective on those who make great achievements. They experience the same self-doubt you do! Feynman notes in dismay that other researchers at Los Alamos effortlessly solved problems mentally after he'd spend days working out the solution. He also mentions when he starts in academia, he was overwhelmed by an academic paper being discussed at a conference because he didn't understand it. Richard Hamming notes a few extra pressures, specifically the pressure to solve great problems instead of small problems, and how this pressure ruins your work

Both books have similar lessons. Feynman says it implicitly, and Hamming says it explicitly: Keep modern, work with others, understand the twists and turns of your field, think about the future, and solve the small problems. You can't force yourself to do great things, but you can stack the deck in your favor.



Thanks for the link to the "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" book. I just bought a used copy for $7. I'm running out of good stuff to read, and I love getting good book recommendations from people. Hopefully it'll be a great read.
I'm even later to the party so I'll just cite Ira Glass:

All of us who do creative work... we get into it because we have good taste. And it's like there's a gap... for the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. But your taste is still killer... it's good enough that you can tell that what you're making is kind of a disappointment to you...

A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people, at that point, they quit. And the thing I would say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years [like this].... the most important thing you can do is to do a lot of work. It's only by going through a volume of work that you are going to catch up and close that gap.

Et cetera.

Somewhat to my chagrin, this video never gets old.

I'm actually really afraid of closing the gap. What if I get to the point that I'm really pleased with what I've made. That's the end. I can't grow past that point and likely, what I make still sucks on the grand scale.
Affiliate link for the lazy!


I should have just down-voted the affiliate link and left it at that. Something's changed in the tenor of comments here on HN, and my reaction to it isn't productive. For the foreseeable future, I think I'm going to bite my tongue and read in silence.

How is that principled?? You hate when others benefit even if it's at no detriment to you?? SCARCITY THINKING :_(

Okay, if you like reading text on your screen, you can also read it for free here:

The principle is to minimize the reward from spam.
So shouldn't we just downvote the ones that are spammy -- those that make the conversation worse instead of better?
Shouldn't making the conversation better be its own incentive?
People do things because of a broad variety of motivations. Often because of a combination of motivations. If it's helping and not hurting, who cares?
Someone registered that domain name just to host a pirated copy of a book?

(Mind, it's one of my favorite books).

Hm, looks like it's a way to funnel PageRank into some spam links at the bottom of the page. I guess the theory is that people will link to that domain's copy of Surely You're Joking and pass some of the subsequent "google juice" onward to the spam.
I'm happy for people to benefit online in proportion to the value they provide to others. Post a thoughtful comment, write a review, link previously disparate ideas? Sure, put in an affiliate link. Hijack the top comment on a thread with just an Amazon link? Not so much.

At least you were up front about it, I'll give you that. :)

I'm just finishing "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" - what a damn good book.

For a few years, I'd read references and anecdotes and cool snippets and meant to read it, but I never got around to it. And now I'm kicking myself that I didn't earlier, because it's wonderful and illuminating and my worldview is greatly expanded.

You, yes YOU, if you haven't read it yet, get your copy and read it. You'll be happy you did. It reads fast, and you'll learn a lot about society and love and engineering and science and mixing with people very different than you. Just an amazing read. It's worth taking a 30 minute break from Hacker News each day for a month to read it, it's like the essence of Hacker News distilled into witty, insightful, gorgeous easy-yet-deep reading.

Amazon, no affiliate link (really, add it to your cart and get it with your next order - no excuse not to, anyone who likes this site will love this book):

I could just hope, that William H. Gates will still have enough income to buy the right to copy this book, and put it out on Silverlight, out of pure fascination for science and integrity; so that Amazon will need not meddle with the freedom of the Right to Read.

Until then, those whom dare to click through and read seem to be in breach of the law. May you have that freedom. Lucky it's not source code with all those 4 freedoms...

Why on silverlight, why not on project gutenberg ?
ask W.H.G. ...if I were to guess, the real answer might have to do something with control for power. Speaking of integrity, power and Gutenberg: "Understanding Power" is quite a book.
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