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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.
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Review by Brian Clegg

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