Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life

Leonard Mlodinow, Author Warner Books $21 (192p) ISBN 978-0-446-53045-3
The late Nobel laureate Richard Feynman has been virtually canonized as the People's Physicist--an earthy, bongo-playing free spirit who delighted in puncturing the pomposity of the establishment. In this memoir, by ex-physicist and Star Trek writer Mlodinow, of a stint as a post-doctoral colleague of Feynman's at Caltech, the aging physicist still cracks wise, crashes parties, works on his physics at a strip joint and needles stuffed-shirt academics. Mlodinow was something of a Feynman-esque character himself--he liked to smoke pot with the garbage man next door and was working on a screenplay--so he turned to the older scientist for life lessons. And that's where this otherwise engaging book goes wrong, because, truth be told, Feynman was at his best only when talking about physics. Mlodinow taped many of their conversations, and transcribes them at length here, to the book's detriment. Feynman holds forth on the creative process, art and modern novels (""The few that I've looked at, I can't stand them""), but as far as insights go, platitudes like""Remember, it's supposed to be fun"" (a thought inspired by the titular rainbow) are about as good as it gets. Fortunately, Mlodinow's accessible style manages to convey Feynman's cantankerous appeal as well as some of the weirdness of theoretical physics without overtaxing lay readers, while his deft, funny, novelistic portraits of its practitioners, like the (as portrayed here) toweringly pretentious and touchingly human Nobelist Murray Gell-Mann, bring this seemingly gray sub-culture to vivid life.
Reviewed on: 05/01/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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