The late physicist and free spirit Richard Feynman has been depicted again and again in books: his own disjointed but charming memoirs collected in Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character; James Gleick’s fine biography Genius: the Life and Science of Richard Feynman, or the more scientifically focused Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science by Lawrence M. Krauss to name a few. Feynman’s quirky way of thinking, his enthusiastic cheerleading for the value of science, his gifts for explaining complicated subjects to laypeople, and his sometimes bizarre personal behavior all make him a subject for the ages.
There’s always room for one more good book about a person this complex, as writer Jim Ottaviani and artist Leland Myrick demonstrate in their new graphic biography, Feynman. It’s actually very fitting that Feynman should get the graphic treatment: one of his great achievements in science was to find new visual ways to depict equations, and he always claimed to see equations with a kind of synesthesia, visualizing them swirling around him with different parts in different colors. The artist here does this legacy fine justice, with different background colors making the book into a slowly progressing rainbow and Feynman himself drawn with wiry, jaunty, approachable grace.
Feynman fascinates. He was one of the leading scientists of the twentieth century, a man closely involved with important events like the Manhattan Project and the investigation of the first space shuttle explosion, but at the same time was famous for quixotic quests like playing instruments at Carnival in Rio, trying unsuccessfully to visit a little known region of Russia, or appearing in court to defend the topless bar where he liked to sit and think. Ottaviani does a fine job here of balancing Feynman’s scientific importance with all the qualities that made the man unusual and sometimes difficult.
Nearly a quarter of a century after his death, Feynman continues to captivate us, perhaps for the pure light of his genius, perhaps because he’s difficult to pin down, or perhaps because there’s something in his legacy to capture almost anyone’s imagination. This new book is perhaps the easiest entry point I’ve seen yet for your own pursuit of a truly curious character.
Check the WRL catalog for Feynman