The Feynman Lectures on Physics, The Most Popular Physics Book Ever Written, Now Completely Online by Dan Colman, Open Culture
Last fall, we let you know that Caltech and The Feynman Lectures Website joined forces to create an online edition of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. They started with Volume 1. And now they’ve followed up with Volume 2 and Volume 3, making the collection complete.
First presented in the early 1960s at Caltech by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, the lectures were eventually turned into a book by Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands. The text went on to become arguably the most popular physics book ever written, selling more than 1.5 million copies in English, and getting translated into a dozen languages.
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The Feynman Lectures on Physics – Description
The Feynman Lectures on Physics: Commemorative Issue, Three Volume Set Hardcover by Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, Matthew Sands
The Feynman Lectures on Physics: Commemorative Issue, Three Volume Set.
- Feynman’s effective classroom style remains intact in these volumes, a valuable work by a remarkable educator.
- The volumes are an edited version of Richard Feynman’s lectures, taped and transcribed specifically for the books.
- The three volume commemorative issue is either available hardbound and packaged in a specially designed slipcase, or in a paperbound edition.
The Feynman Lectures on Physics: Commemorative Issue, Three Volume Set Hardcover was originally designed for a two-year introductory physics course given at the California Institute of Technology — a course designed to take advantage of readers’ increasing mathematical prowess and to provide a more comprehensive view of modern-day physics. It is a rigorous undertaking that resulted in a classic reference work for anyone interested in physics.
The Feynman Lectures on Physics – Reviews
When I took my sophomore-level physics class in college in the mid-60’s, my professor put these Feynman books on reserve in the library. Eventually, looking for anything that could help me with a difficult course, I went into the library to see what Mr. Feynman (of whom I had never heard) had to say.
I was spellbound. It was unimaginable to me that a subject so full of technical detail, formulas and equations, could be brought to life so brilliantly and vividly.
I soon changed my major to math, and I never heard or thought of Richard Feynman again until the Challenger disaster about 20 years later. When President Reagan appointed Feynman to the investigating panel, I said, “Hey! That’s the guy who wrote those wonderful Physics books!”
Since then I have learned a lot more about Richard Feynman, and I guess I could say that if I have a hero, he’s it. I have also gone back to look at these incomparable physics books again, and they are at least as magnificent as I thought they were in 1966. After decades of reading math and science books, I still believe this set of three books is head and shoulders above ANY textbook that I have seen in ANY subject. (Although, as others have said, it isn’t really a textbook. On the other hand, after reading these books, you are likely to ask, “Who the hell needs a texbook?”)
Feynman manages to cover the technical and mechanical details of his subject while at the same time conveying a deep and philosophical understanding of the way the physical world works. He shines a dazzling and penetrating floodlight on a subject which is murky to all but the most talented among us.
No praise is too high or too exaggerated for this work. It is one of the great achievements in the history of scientific writing.
First, on the question of whether the original lectures were a failure. In the April 2005 issue of Physics Today, Matthew Sands writes about the project that resulted in the Feynman Lectures. He disputes the claim that the undergraduates drifted away from Feynman’s lectures in large numbers, and explains how Feynman’s preface came about, and why he (Sands) finds it unduly negative.
It has always been widely agreed that the Lectures are insufficient as a standalone textbook, and best used as supplemental reading. As can be seen from the reviews here, Feynman’s approach appeals to many readers, but falls flat with others. This is not surprising, as different people respond to different ways of explaining physics. As an historical aside, Feynman and Schwinger took such different approaches to developing quantum electrodynamics theory that it wasn’t immediately clear that their formulations were even equivalent. Most physicists find Feynman’s approach easier to learn, but others find it unsatisfying. People are different. Physicists are different. Even physics students are different. There is not, and will never be, one book that is the best for every reader. The Feynman Lectures are great because they have been so enlightening to so many people, not because they meet the impossible standard of being clear to every reader.