Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman – Book Review

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Book Cover "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"
Richard Phillips Feynman, Ralph Leighton, Edward Hutchings,
Biography & Autobiography
W. W. Norton & Company

Richard Feynman is a quirky, practical joker who is also a brilliant physicist.  Here he recounts his experiences with working on the atomic bomb, cracking uncrackable safes, as well as playing the drums and learning to paint.  His book reflects his insatiable curiosity combined with his passion for learning.


A few months ago my husband emailed me a link on Richard Feynman. Apparently,  Bill Gates is such a fan of Richard Feynman he bought the rights to all his lectures and posted them online for free.  Out of curiosity, I added his book, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman to my to-read list.

I chose it as my first read of the new year and have been surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to the audio copy from my local library.  January winter nights passed by quickly as I sat by the fire coloring with my cat.  (My cat wasn’t coloring, he was sitting on me while I tried to color and listen to the book.)

I think I enjoyed this book so much because it gave me a glimpse into the way someone else thinks. I would have thought a book written by a Physicist would be boring and hard to understand.  But it was just the opposite.  Mr. Feynman is a funny guy and I just laughed and laughed at his practical jokes. He is also curious and always learning.  If you watch the video in the above link on Bill Gates, you will see his face light up as he describes fire.  Seeing how other people think stretches me and reminds me that my way isn’t the only way -or even the best way.

His tone is conversational and some of the chronology is not in order.  At some point, I got confused if he was on his second or third wife.  My approach to information is to take what is useful and leave the rest. So it’s worth noting that Richard is a colorful character and some may find parts of his stories and language to be offensive.

In one sentence, how did this book change me?

You can accomplish a lot in life by being curious and just being your own quirky self.

Who would I recommend it to?

Someone who likes history, biographies and enjoys laughing.


“I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding; they learn by some other way—by rote, or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!”

“the whole problem of discovering what was the matter, and figuring out what you have to do to fix it–that was interesting to me, like a puzzle”

“When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles. The other students in the class interrupt me: “We _know_ all that!” “Oh,” I say, “you _do?_ Then no _wonder_ I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had four years of biology.” They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.”

“And Von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in.”

“attitude that anything can happen, in spite of what you’re pretty sure should happen.”

“All the time you’re saying to yourself, “I could do that, but I won’t”—which is just another way of saying that you can’t.”

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I ordered this book! Sounds like a great read. 🙂