Book Club: Six Easy Pieces

I am going to try something new. Due to the fact that I have been blessed with the gift of being being a nerd, I spend a good deal of my time reading. Most of it nonfiction. I made a resolution to myself this year to read 24 books (two a month!) but am allowing myself to consider books that I had started previously but never finished to count and I wanted a way to keep track of them. What better way than this ridiculously random blog.  Therefore, I am starting a book club with myself. I would say it was me reviewing the books I finish, but I mostly want to have a place to remember what I liked most about the books–quoting quotes and giving my opinion. It is after all, “through my looking glass.”

5553 So first up?

The ingenious Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics by its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard Fenyman. I get so excited about this book that I almost found myself crying in the Preface. I find this collection of lectures an extraordinary piece of history. After just finishing it, I looked it up on GoodReads and was absolutely floored at the fact that it had so many mediocre reviews! It seriously depressed me, which is the main reason that I never read people’s reviews and like to judge things for myself. Yes, I am sure Feynman was an arrogant ass, but who wouldn’t be if you developed the math that governed the behavior or subatomic particles AND were dashingly good-looking? We can’t all be perfect, people.

The book isn’t even about Feynman. It is a collection of six of the priceless lectures that Feynman gave to an undergraduate class at Caltech between 1961 and 1963. This is the ONLY time he caved and lectured to undergrads. And the most amusing part? Most of them ditched class! Fools! The lectures were still packed out with others that could truly appreciate the magnitude of what was happening. There is never going to be another opportunity for such a brilliant man to present such brilliant, yet aloof material in such a beautiful manner. If I had all the time in the world, I would read the whole collection. I hated undergraduate physics–not because I hated the material, but because I struggled so much with wrapping my head around the simple, yet eloquent laws that govern existence. However, this book put into perspective how wonderful physics actually is and provided a primer to appreciating the world around you on every level.

And he manages to do it in a way in which I could not stop chuckling to myself throughout the entire read. What a sense of humor the man has! From the “jiggles” and “wiggles” of atoms and and subatomic particles to the “lumpiness” of waves, I just could not get enough.

Feynman says several things that I feel exemplify the tone and passion of the man towards life. If you are to never read this book (which you should, even though I am sure most of you never will), please just read these priceless quotes:

  • “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine. Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!” (p. xxi)
  • “How I am rushing through this! How much each sentence in this brief story contains. “The stars are made of the same atoms on earth.” I usually pick one small topic like this to give a lecture on. Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars–mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere.” I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination–stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light…What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?” (p. 59-60)

And finally, which brought tears to my eyes:

  • “A poet once said, ” The whole universe is a glass of wine. ” We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. These are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the caret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts–physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on–remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!” (p. 66-67)

I’m sorry, but if you did not find beauty in this book, you were not seeing it for its purpose.

2 thoughts on “Book Club: Six Easy Pieces

  1. Have you read “Flatland,” by Edwin Abott Abott? I’m an aspiring Theoretical Physicist (stuck in 9th grade, unfortunately) and this book made me laugh so much, and in such a nerdy way, but it also gets you thinking a lot. Never has geometry been presented in such a hilarious way. I loved these quotes! I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of this book! Thanks!

    I would love it if you checked out my blog, “The [American] Road to Oxford,” because seeing “0 all-time views” in my stats is getting a tad depressing. I’m trying to get into Oxford University, and am documenting my way to help future prospective students, but I’m also hoping it will make for some good reading. Right now it’s really boring, though. Anyway, thanks again for the review! I’ll be sure to read this!

    • Hey, thanks for the comment. No, I have never read it–I’ll be sure to add it to my list. And I’ll be sure to check out your blog 🙂

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