Even though I had heard many of the incidents in the life of physicist Richard Feynman, I found this graphic novel biography by true-science comic writer Jim Ottaviani and accomplished cartoonist Leland Myrick surprisingly affecting, particularly when it came to the story of his wife Arline.
Much of the material will be familiar to readers of Feynman’s biographies, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, but seeing the incidents play out visually gives them new life. If you aren’t familiar, Feynman will be particularly inspiring, as it demonstrates how marvelous the universe is, particularly with the right attitude. Reading through it made me wish I’d stayed in the sciences, especially physics, because Feynman makes it all look fascinating and fulfilling. He got successful enough that he could concentrate on what he found fun, making discoveries along the way. Not a bad way to go about things!
Feynman had amazing accomplishments — he participated in the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, lectured in front of Einstein, graduated MIT and Princeton, won the Nobel Prize, investigated the Challenger disaster — but also impressive is his attitude, demonstrated from a young age, of curiosity and an unwillingness to be cowed by authority and the inclination to question almost everything. I also loved his devotion to teaching (an area many universities tolerate at best) and his insistence that science needed to be able to be explained to lay people.
Ottaviani excerpts many of Feynman’s public speeches and writings, so the book has plausibility and authenticity. It also has heart, as Feynman struggles first to marry Arline and then to live with her in spirt of his work and her sickness. That part made me cry, so I was glad for the sillier stories about safecracking and learning art and hanging out at the beach.