Synopses & Reviews
Rescued from obscurity, is a blessing for all Feynman followers. Most know Richard Feynman for the hilarious anecdotes and exploits in his best-selling books and But not always obvious in those stories was his brilliance as a pure scientist--one of the century's greatest physicists. With this book and CD, we hear the voice of the great Feynman in all his ingenuity, insight, and acumen for argument. This breathtaking lecture--"The Motion of the Planets Around the Sun"--uses nothing more advanced than high-school geometry to explain why the planets orbit the sun elliptically rather than in perfect circles, and conclusively demonstrates the astonishing fact that has mystified and intrigued thinkers since Newton: Nature obeys mathematics. David and Judith Goodstein give us a beautifully written short memoir of life with Feynman, provide meticulous commentary on the lecture itself, and relate the exciting story of their effort to chase down one of Feynman's most original and scintillating lectures.
On March 13, 1964, Feynman delivered a lecture to the Caltech freshman class, "The Motion of Planets Around the Sun"why the planets move elliptically instead of in perfect circles. For reasons unknown, most probably for his own amusement, he chose to make the argument using mathematics no more advanced than high-school plane geometry. Isaac Newton had pulled off much the same trick nearly 300 years earlier in his masterpiece, the Principia. Feynman, unable to follow Newton's obscure proof, invented his own original, geometrical proof in the Caltech lecture. The subject of Feynman's lecture was the watershed discovery that separated the ancient world discovery that separated the ancient world from the modern world - the culmination of the Scientific Revolution. Before Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, the universe was Earth-centered. After their discoveries, our idea of the universe steadily altered and expanded, moving outward to the infinity we try to understand in our own time. Thus Feynman deals here with a crowning achievement of the human mind, comparable to Beethoven's symphonies. Shakespeare's plays, or Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Feynman conclusively demonstrates the astonishing fact that has mystified and intrigued all deep thinkers since Newton's time: Nature obeys mathematics. For thirty years this brilliant and seminal lecture lay dormant in the Caltech archives. Now, in this book, Feynman's lost lecture has been reconstructed and explained in meticulous detail together with a history of ideas of the planets' motions. Anyone who remembers high-school geometry can enjoy it and can profit from the compact disc that accompanies this book.
"Glorious."—Wall Street Journal
Includes bibliographical references (p. 183-184) and index.
About the Author
Richard P. Feynman was born in 1918 and grew up in Far Rockaway, New York. At the age of seventeen he entered MIT and in 1939 went to Princeton, then to Los Alamos, where he joined in the effort to build the atomic bomb. Following World War II he joined the physics faculty at Cornell, then went on to Caltech in 1951, where he taught until his death in 1988. He shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965, and served with distinction on the Shuttle Commission in 1986. A commemorative stamp in his name was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2005.David Goodstein, vice provost and Frank J. Galloon Distinguished Teaching and Service Professor at the California Institute of Technology, is the author of Feynman's Lost Lecture, among other works. He lives with wife Dr. Judith R. Goodstein in Pasadena.Judith R. Goodstein, PhD, is University Archivist and faculty associate at Caltech. She has taught history at Cal State Dominguez Hills and UCLA, while building from scratch an archive and rare book collection about the history of science. She is married to Professor David Goodstein.