Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Feynman, by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick
Well, who knew--there's a graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman! I found it at the library the other day, and since I'm a Feynman fan, I picked it right up. The storyline jumps around kind of a lot at first, but soon settles down into a fun rhythm.
If you're not familiar with the name, you should know that Richard Feynman was one of the eminent physicists of the 20th century. He got to be quite famous because he was kind of a big personality--he was outspoken, direct, had a bunch of unusual hobbies, and was all around an interesting guy. He wrote a couple of books of entertaining vignettes about his life and experiences that people who didn't understand physics (like me) could enjoy, and he also worked hard to make physics comprehensible to us ordinary folks.
The graphic novel covers a lot of material that I was already familiar with, and added more that I didn't know--it gives a better overall picture of Feynman's life than the vignette books do, so that was helpful. It's all narrated in first-person, with quite a bit of the text taken directly from things he wrote or said, so his voice comes through pretty strongly. You also get a nice sense of Feynman's personality, especially his constant desire to get rid of image and public-relations-type talk and get right to the point. (This was what made him so well-known in 1986, when he was on the panel that investigated the Challenger disaster, but you see it earlier too, especially at Los Alamos.)
Towards the end, the authors do their best to put a couple of Feynman's lectures on physics for regular people into graphic novel format. I must confess that I skimmed these bits. It was probably really well-done too, so now I feel guilty--maybe I'll go back and try to pay more attention.
If you already know something about Feynman's life, you'll probably enjoy this graphic novel. I would really recommend that you read his two books, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, and What Do You Care What Other People Think? over this biography--because it's good, but those two are classics. Best of all, read all three!