This collection of Richard Feynman‘s autobiographical anecdotes is both charming and amusing. More than anything else, it conveys what a remarkable character he is, and what an astonishing variety of things he managed to do. Few Nobel Prize winning physicists can claim to have had a one man art show, learned to pick locks and crack military safes, played the drums for a percussion-only ballet, wrangled cryptographically with the mail censors at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, spent the summer after finishing his undergraduate degree as ‘chief research chemist of the Metaplast Corporation,’ juggled, deciphered Mayan hieroglyphs, defended a topless bar in court, and fixed radios while he was still a small child. One can never tell if Feynman is being entirely honest and accurate – largely because the character he draws for himself is so uncomplicated and appealing – but one is certainly grateful for the stories.
Indeed, the book provides a nice counterargument to the division of labour. While economics and societal organization have revealed specialization in knowledge and production to be highly efficient overall, Feynman demonstrates the degree to which variety is remarkable and wonderful for the individual. The question the reader is left with is whether they can experience anything comparable without Feynman’s own extensive genius and peculiar character.