Six Not-so-easy Pieces - Richard P. Feynman

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Six Not-so-easy Pieces - Richard P. Feynman

These Six Not-So-Easy Pieces" are drawn from Feynman's celebrated introductory course of lectures on physics. They delve into the most revolutionary d...

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Review of "Six Not-so-easy Pieces - Richard P. Feynman"

published 13/05/2003 | Discerna
Member since : 26/03/2003
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Good
Pro Clear explanations of Relativity from a master physicist
Cons Assumed pre-requisite knowledge
very helpful
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"The warning's in the title"

This is a book for a relatively select group of people. Unlike its predecessor “Six Easy Pieces” which is accessible to all, “Six not-so-easy pieces” demands some pre-requisite specialized knowledge from its reader. It was compiled from a series of lectures for wannabe physicists eager to understand Einstein’s relativity. The attendees of the lectures could be expected therefore to be comfortable with Newtonian mechanics and calculus. If you’re not then this is unfortunately not a book for you.

The Six topics covered in this volume are:

1. Vectors
2. Symmetry in Physical Laws
3. The Special Theory of Relativity
4. Relativistic Energy and Momentum
5. Space-Time
6. Curved Space

Ironically, much of the first lecture is devoted to teaching elementary vector algebra of a sort that is now introduced in school mathematics prior to calculus. At the time that Feynman delivered these lectures back in the 1960’s that would not have been the case.

Feynman’s genius as a teacher and entertainer shines through in the 2nd lecture where, in his concern to ensure that his students develop a “feel” for the subject, he asks a lot of questions that most of us would not think to ask. At one point, he considers attempting to scale up a matchstick model of a cathedral, and observes its inevitable collapse. At another, he invites the reader to consider whether it is possible to make a clock that is the exact mirror image of another. At first it is tempting to think “of course it is”, but as Feynman then leads down to the molecular level and starts to question the orientation of atomic make-up of the molecules, you realize that you have been led into a trap. Towards the end, Feynman poses the unanswerable question: Why is nature so nearly symmetrical? – and characteristically supplies an answer.

There is less of the Feynman magic in the next 3 lectures, except when you consider how few people would be able to give a clear and succinct coverage of these topics. Mathematics is not a subject that lends itself well to the lecture framework. At least in book form it is possible to proceed at one’s own pace.

If you can make it through the tunnel, then there is some light relief in the introduction to Curved Space as Feynman again engages his audience/readership in some delightful thought experiments involving “bugs” placed on different surfaces studying the geometry of their surroundings before plunging into the necessary mathematics.

So who would I recommend to buy this book? I can think of 3 groups of people for whom it would be a worthwhile purchase:

1. its original intended audience – students of physics and mathematics for whom the study of Einstein’s relativity is a part of the curriculum (I certainly wish this text had been available when I was a student);
2. teachers of mathematics wanting motivational material for the study of vectors and transformations;
3. those looking for a gift for a “know-it-all” with a mathematical inclination. Trust me, they will enjoy it!

So if you’re still reading, you will want to know that the book is available in paperback (Penguin) published in 1999, price £7.99, ISBN 0-14-027667-X. I picked mine up in a book sale for £1.99. There are a number of previous editions. Those published after 1997 include an interesting introduction by Roger Penrose.

Given the nature of the book and its limited appeal, I have found it quite hard to rate on some of the criteria below. e.g. I would have found it very useful and relatively easy to read when I was a student, but not now - so a single average rating doesn't really mean very much.


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Comments on this review

  • reginabelga published 14/02/2005
    An exceptional piece of writing on a very difficult subject especially on a site like this where your readers aren't particularly interested in such matters as physics. I wish I had seen this book earlier in my life or been introduced to it, or had known something about the author, I could have shared the information with my uncle, who had introduced me to Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Well at least I can still learn a bit more and thereby increase my brain power. Thank you kindly.
  • mattygroves published 11/06/2003
    Oooh - how did I miss these? I've not read the not-so-easy pieces, as I found the sixth easy piece not all that easy...nice, succinct review on a difficult text! Cheers, Kate
  • TrueSatan published 08/06/2003
    When reading and rating an opinion I try to put myself in the place of a consumer who is seeking advice prior to making a purchase and as such a consumer would only be minded to search for an opinion on this book if he or she had a predilection to Physics I feel that you need not worry about it going over the head of Ciao members who may not be interested in the subject. Taken in that vein this is most certainly an opinion that would help decide a purchase. (I studied engineering at one time so know my Physics tolerably well)
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Product Information : Six Not-so-easy Pieces - Richard P. Feynman

Manufacturer's product description

These Six Not-So-Easy Pieces" are drawn from Feynman's celebrated introductory course of lectures on physics. They delve into the most revolutionary discovery of twentieth-century physics: Einstein's theory of relativity. 'In these lectures everything you've ever heard about Feynman's wit and genius comes true' - John Horgan."

Product Details

EAN: 9780140276671

Type: Non-Fiction

Genre: Science & Technology

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd

Title: Six Not-so-easy Pieces

Author: Richard P. Feynman, Richard Feynman

ISBN: 014027667X

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