Genius: The Life And Science of Richard Feynman Summary – April 2022

Author: James Gleick

Short Summary
Genius: The Life And Science Of Richard Feynman (1992) is a biography that details the life of one of the greatest minds in the history of science and his contributions to physics. Feynman’s lifetime achievements are also discussed, together with the work he did towards creating an explanation for quantum electrodynamics. We get to see alternate perspectives on events in Richard Feynman’s life. All in all, it’s a fascinating look at the life of a man who defined physics.
genius: the life and science of richard feynman

Detailed Summary

To be honest I didn’t even know what the word ‘genius’ meant until I started reading this book. By the end of it, the word genius took on a whole new meaning. Richard Feynman was a genius, plain and simple From his childhood anecdotes to exploring his relationships with some of the greatest minds like Einstein and Bohr and how his experience with the Manhattan project helped him get his Nobel prize, to even how he dealt with his illness later in life, there was so much packed into this book that it was hard to put it down. Richard Feynman is a fascinating person, in many ways. If you’ve never heard of him, read this book to find out why he was such an interesting, curious man.

Unlike your typical Nobel laureate, Feynman did not study physics since early childhood. He wasn’t even that great at math; in fact, he barely passed math in high school (they let him pass because his older brother was the principal). But Feynman didn’t give up. Even though he was afraid of majoring in physics as an undergraduate at MIT, because he thought it would be too hard for him—he still did it. After graduating and doing his Ph.D. at Princeton with John Wheeler, he became one of the world’s most brilliant theoretical physicists.

Feynman entered his field’s greatest minds while still in his 20s and he left it at the top as well. He became a world-famous physicist and also a scientific rock star. Not only because of his charisma, his looks, his free spirit, and his way with words but also because he loved life. This is what James Gleick does in Genius: The Life And Science Of Richard Feynman: he shows us Feynman’s many sides. His driving force was curiosity about the world around him and not just the world of science.

Genius: The Life And Science of Richard Feynman Summary Key Points

Observe and understand the real world to get the most out of it

At some point in your research field, you must go out, observe the real world and understand it by coming up with your examples with help from the notes you have taken. Richard was an extreme example of this. In the beginning, he wouldn’t understand basic things about the outside world. When Melville, who was his father, teaches him about birds, he used to tell him the species names in different languages such as Chinese and Italian, to emphasize the knowledge that lay in seeing the world as it is and understanding what happens. But as research progresses, there is a generation gap between ‘seeing’ as a child and ‘seeing’ as an adult. One day Richard announced that he wanted to go out again. “I want to observe something,” he said. I don’t know what, but I want to understand it.

Richard’s father Melville was a university professor. Richard did have a bookish insight into the world. He more or less grew up in the library, and the time he spent there had a profound effect on his understanding of people. When they took him to museums, they asked him questions about the exhibits.

Sometimes they took him to the circus and brought him back with reports on what he’d seen and liked. They also had him look at paintings and read poems from around the world. It was all about observing the real world and then trying to understand it by coming up with your examples.

Empathy is a very important element in intelligence

As a post-doctorate researcher, Richard Feynman found that he was often bored solving simple problems in his research. To solve complex problems, Feynman realized that he would need to expand his cognitive abilities. He began studying other fields, taking classes on philosophy and psychology, to learn more about the commonalities between the different disciplines.

To be a theoretical physicist — a good theoretical physicist — you have to be able to put yourself into a picture and imagine what the picture would look like from several different points of view. Feynman was very adept at that. One of the things that he developed was a kind of an empathetic ability: he could stand in the shoes of atoms, see things from the point of view of an atom, and imagine what it would be like to experience the world as an atom. That is, to me, a tremendous achievement.

He had several other characteristics that made him good at what he did. He had a truly extraordinary imagination, combined with extremely good intuition — something which I don’t have but which I respect enormously in other theoretical physicists. And he also had tremendous physical intuition — how things are moving around, how things are happening. He could see how things were moving without actually doing a lot of calculations.

Develop a sense of self-awareness by knowing your anti-passions

Develop a sense of self-awareness when you want to get better at something or become more efficient in many things in life. One thing that helps you develop this self-awareness is by knowing your anti-passions.

Know what you are good at and know what you aren’t good at. And then stick to your strengths and work around your weaknesses – don’t boast about what you can’t do and don’t deny yourself the joy of doing things you are better at than others. It’s part of what makes you awesome – and it might be the part that makes you valuable to the world in some way or another.

Nobody’s great at everything. I’m not a great designer, I’m not a great coder and I’m not great at business. This is me being transparent because the more people that share their weaknesses, the more we realize “Hey, I wasn’t that bad at this.” We are all great at something and we are all bad at something else. The key to success is knowing what you are bad at and compensating for it with your strengths. It’s OK to be bad at something, it just means you need to work on something else.

Whether you’re a writer, an artist, a musician, an entrepreneur, or anything else, there’s something you’re not that great at. Once you figure out what that one thing is, concentrate your efforts on what you are good at, and navigate around your weaknesses.

Genius: The Life And Science of Richard Feynman Quote

“Maybe that’s why young people make success. They don’t know enough. Because when you know enough it’s obvious that every idea that you have is no good.” James Gleick

“Riches have never made people great but love does it every day—we” James Gleick,

Genius: The Life And Science of Richard Feynman Review

I didn’t know about Richard Feynman but It was fascinating to learn about him. There is a lot of great knowledge about him that you can learn a lesson from. A good biographical book. I must recommend you to read it. I may find out more about him later.

To whom I would recommend Genius: The Life And Science of Richard Feynman summary?

  • A math student who gets bored in class.
  • A physicist researching or studying physics.
  • Anyone who loves science and wants to know more about theories.