Skip to main content

Feynman and His Physics - Jörg Resag ***

So much has been written about the charismatic twentieth century physicist Richard Feynman that it's hard to think of a book about him presenting anything new - so Jörg Resag needs to be congratulated for achieving just that. What's more, it's an excellent book for a particular audience - the only reason I'm giving it three stars is that this is quite a narrow audience... but for them it deserves four.

Feynman and his Physics contains relatively little biographical material: Resag makes it clear from his introduction that this isn't the main thrust of the book. What there is serves as context for Feynman's work in physics. I'd almost wish Resag had not bothered, as without a bit more depth, biography can seem a little tedious, but there was nothing tedious about Feynman's life. (There were also one or two contextual details, such as the now discarded suggestion that Wheeler devised the term 'black hole', which could do with updating.)

When it comes to the physics, Resag treads a fine line between the physics textbook and popular science. He explains the ideas with very little use of mathematics, but goes into a lot more depth than you would expect (or desire) in a popular science title. it is this depth that gives this book its unique flavour - that being case, to be honest, I wish Resag had accepted that anyone who is prepared to work through this will be at least familiar with basic calculus and so not have to (as he does) skirt around calculus with statement that tell us sort of what the integration or differentiation is doing in text, rather than simply representing it much more clearly mathematically.

So who would benefit from this treatment? A reader who is already familiar with the basics of Feynman's work, perhaps from one of the existing scientific biographies, and who wants to discover in more detail just what Feynman really contributed and how he did so. There was far more information here on what made Feynman remarkable than I've seen elsewhere (other than in, for example, the Feynman lectures) - the reader really gets a feel for his unique approach to physics and how he often saw things differently to many of his contemporaries.

Just occasionally, even for this audience (who, I'd suggest, should have at least A-level physics and maths), Resag drops something in that is never properly explained. So, for example, when talking about quantum mechanical wave equations he tells us 'such an analysis informs us that suitable pre-factors such as (example) should be included' without telling us what a pre-factor is - not a term that is likely to be familiar to the reader.

All in all, then, a really original take on Feynman's work that should be very attractive  if you should fall into the correct narrow category of potential readership.
Hardback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …