Microbe Matters Book Club: “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman”

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Sometimes I’m lucky enough to stumble across small treasures and this collection of the short works of Richard Feynman is a gem.

For those of you not familiar with Richard Feynman, he was a physicist who shared the  1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum electrodynamics. While he passed away in 1988, his scientific legacy as well as his impact on the world of ideas remains.

This book contains reflections on his wide ranging and impressive career that included working on the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb (BEFORE he got his PhD).  For anyone with a curiosity about the Manhattan project and what life was like there as a scientist, his unique insights into the inner workings of the project are fascinating. His account of being the only person to view the Trinity test without blackout glasses (he looked through a car windshield) and what came to his mind while witnessing this new power that he had helped to unleash is a moment that we should all reflect upon.

This entire work is worth reading, but specific chapters are of note.  Any budding scientist should take the time to read his 1974 address to the graduating class of Caltech where he describes what he terms “cargo cult science” and the dangers of pseudoscience. His minority report to the space shuttle Challenger inquiry for NASA shows how willing he was to challenge institutions and hold them accountable to true scientific standards. Finally, his reflections on the role of science in society as how science and religion relate demonstrate a more philosophical viewpoint than one might expect from a physicist.

I highly recommend this book and think that any person who enjoys science can enjoy this collection of short works.