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 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Superior - Angela Saini *****

It was always going to be difficult to follow Angela Saini's hugely popular Inferior, but with Superior she has pulled it off, not just in the content but by upping the quality of the writing to a whole new level. Where Inferior looked at the misuse of science in supporting sexism (and the existence of sexism in science), Superior examines the way that racism has been given a totally unfounded pseudo-scientific basis in the past - and how, remarkably, despite absolute evidence to the contrary, this still turns up today.

At the heart of the book is the scientific fact that 'race' simply does not exist biologically - it is nothing more than an outdated social label. As Saini points out, there are far larger genetic variations within a so-called race than there are between individuals supposedly of different races. She shows how, pre-genetics, racial prejudice was given a pseudo-scientific veneer by dreaming up fictitious physical differences over and above the tiny distinct…

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 …

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …