Book Review: Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman

This Summer I had a long flight to Singapore. A few hours into long flights I tend to lose the will to read anything challenging, so I decided to return to a book I first read as a young teen when it was lent to me by family friend fred harris, the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman. I remember at the time that this book was an eye opener. Here was a Nobel prize winning physicist with a real lust for life coupled with an inherent enthusiasm for applying the scientific method to all aspects of life and a healthy lack of respect for rules and authority. As a teenager equally keen to apply the scientific method to anything and everything, and keen to work out my own ideas on authority and rules, yet somewhat lacking the personal confidence of Feynman, I found the book hugely enjoyable.

I still find the book hugely enjoyable. I was chuckling throughout – the practical jokes, the encounters with non-scientific “experts” and authority figures. However, I was also somewhat taken aback by Feynman’s attitude to women, which I found misogynistic in places, something that had totally passed me by as a teenager. Feynman’s attitudes were probably unremarkable for his time (Feynman was born in 1918) so I’m not attributing blame here, but I find it odd that I didn’t notice this in the 1980s. Googling for it now, I find commentary about this point is all over the Internet. It just goes to show how many subtleties pass children and teens by, something parents and educators would do well to remember.

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