“While you’re talking, you’re not learning anything,” Richard Feynman used to say. Ironically, Feynman used to talk a lot. A physicist, philosopher, teacher and one of the inventors of the atomic bomb, Feynman was one of the 20th century’s greatest minds.
He grew up in Queens, NY, born to Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants whom he described as “avowed atheists.” He was a prodigious student, but was rejected from Columbia, his dream school, because of their Jewish quota. In 1941, Feynman was recruited for the Manhattan Project, where he worked alongside Einstein and Oppenheimer.
This launched his career in quantum physics, a career in which he was both an innovator and educator–he won a Nobel, and also taught literally thousands of students at Cornell and Cal Tech. He was an expert in explaining the intricate, confusing parts of science, which led him to be nicknamed the “Great Explainer.”
Physics, Feynman once said, is “the language God talks.” For someone who didn’t believe in a conventional God, it’s a remarkably loaded statement–a way of embracing the unknowable and yet attempting to know it at the same time.
The new graphic novel Feynman approaches his life conceptually instead of linearly, jumping back and forth between topics and time periods–yet making perfect sense as it does so. The Great Explainer would be proud.
August 22, 2011