I like Feynman. He’s the sort of guy that it’s hard not to like due to his childish enthusiasm and unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
I’d heard good things about his other books, but had only really encountered him in smaller pieces and videos.
This work was released posthumously, being the last book he was able to prepare.
So, it’s a little sad to say it was disappointing.
The early parts of the book briefly cover his childhood and first marriage. There are interesting insights into that period, but they don’t offer anything especially startling, although they do show where the book’s title comes from.
Then there’s a section of letters, which largely consist of Feynman’s views of the country he’s visiting at the time and gripes about various things — usually stupid people.
The last, and largest, section of the book is dedicated to his time on the Rogers Commission, which investigated the Challenger disaster.
This provides some interesting insights into how NASA operated and some of the Shuttle systems. It even includes his appendix from the report. It illustrates how he struggled to find out what they needed to know, and that his report was full of valid criticisms of the organisation.
One of the episodes credited to Feynman is the demonstration of how poorly the rubber O-rings performed at low temperatures — something that, it turns out, was suggested to him by Donald Kutyna, although Feynman speculates he was passing on information from a NASA engineer.
Couple this with a pretty flat and uninspiring narration by Raymond Todd and you have a fairly dull book, which is tough to do with an author as entertaining as Feynman.
If you’re a fan of the man, or are interested in the Rogers Commission, or want to understand the potential pitfalls of management deluding themselves instead of listening to their engineers, then take a look. Otherwise, there are better reads.
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Audiobook copy of the book
Reviewed: 14th August 2018