Monday, March 18, 2013

Book review: Feynman's Rainbow

hen I started reading Feynman's Rainbow, all I knew about it was that it was on my to-read stack as a result of being a recent gift, and of course the title. I mean, heck, it includes "Feynman," what could go wrong? I had forgotten the other reference point that came with it: Leonard Mlodinow was also a writer for Star Trek. This finally occurred to me somewhere later in the book when he mentions his writing hobby and desire to become a screenwriter.

Most of the memoir/biography is about Mlodinow's time at Caltech in the 1980s, when he was unsure as to his worth as a physicist (and human being, since these things tend to devolve quickly into total failure of confidence). Supposedly, Rainbow is more about Feynman than Mlodinow, hence "biography," but I found it to be more focused on the author's soul-searching and interactions with many other characters at Caltech. Sure, there are big block quotes from his conversations with Feynman, but they're more anecdotal than anything else. That makes me think that the book rides on the famous physicist's name, but survives on the actual content.

Double rainbow over Marlboro College, 2006
And it was rather compelling content, too. Perhaps that's just because I feel like I'm in a similar, confusing, in-between place where I'm not terribly confident in my abilities. Still, Mlodinow's writing was engaging and he explained the related physics in straight-forward terms, just to fill the reader in on context.

While the book's title comes from a particular section on finding what is beautiful and amazing to you and then following that sense to your life's work, I particularly appreciated this quotation from Feynman:
I have to think I have a little bit better chance than the other guys, for some reason. I know in my heart that it is likely false, and likely the particular attitude I'm taking with it was thought of by others. I don't care; I fool myself into thinking I have an extra chance. That I have something to contribute. Otherwise I may as well wait for him to do it, whoever it is. 


  1. Aside from fact I will read anything at all with "Feynman" in it, I am in total agreement with Mr. Anon. This post is a little pot of gold at the beginning of your rainbow.

  2. Are you paying over $5 per pack of cigs? I'm buying all my cigarettes over at Duty Free Depot and this saves me over 60% from cigs.