the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Richard Feynman’ Category

Six Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman

Based on lectures given in 1963, the version I have was published in 1996

where I got it: owned









I was never a very good formal student. Sure, I always liked school, and I liked learning and didn’t mind studying, but when it came to math and science it felt like the information was going in one ear and out the other. The learning of those subjects never felt like a conversation, it never felt like an interaction. It just felt like work.

The greatest teachers of whatever they are teaching make it feel like a conversation. They make physics and chemistry and “how things work” feel like you are witnessing something between passion and magic. Their love for the topic makes people want to learn more. If we are lucky, those passionate teachers record their thoughts.

I discovered the writings of the famous physicist  Richard Feynman when I was in high school, but it would be years before his books made much sense to me. That’s not to say high schoolers shouldn’t read him, they most definitely should, it’s just that the material was beyond me when I was that age.  My first book of his was Six Easy Pieces (and yes, I did eventually go on to purchase  the follow up Six Not so Easy Pieces).   The Six Pieces are the nearly exact dictations of lectures Feynman gave at CalTech in the early 1960’s.  Instead of focusing on formulas and so and so’s law of such and such, Feynman uses easy to understand examples and his vibrant personality and pure love of the subject to invite us into his conversation.

no, the other kind of strange quark!

Originally planned as lectures,  Feynman breaks down the basics of physics, both classical and quantum in six short chapters.  The lectures include stories, improvisations, approximations, and hypothetical conversations on everything from gravitation to strange quarks to perpetual motion and how physics relates to the other sciences. Free of heavy math and scientific jargon, the Laws of Physics are generally compared to learning to play chess by watching two other players,  Conservation of Energy is shown through a story about Dennis the Menace hiding his toys (and his mother having to find them), the concept of “partricles with zero mass” is actually explained in a way I could understand, and the chapter on quantum particles starts by describing them as “not like anything you have ever seen”.  In that final chapter on quantum physics, Feynman is obviously torn between continually having to refer to the classical “laws of physics”, and confusing the student by having to say “yes, but those laws don’t work here, and now I have to figure out a simple way to show how things really work”.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.