The Character of Physical Law, by Richard Feynman

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on July 29, 2009

the-character-of-physical-lawThis book–the text of seven lectures given to students at Cornell University in 1965– should be required reading for every teacher, regardless of the subject they teach. While the topics covered may not quicken the pulse of those not excited by explorations of natural science, anyone interested in how to bring complex issues alive for their students can take away volumes of lessons from this justifiably esteemed little book,

On page one, Feynman states his intention: “…I would like to be understood in an honest way rather than in a vague way.” He goes on to do a bang-up job of it. Even while he apologizes that “…it is impossible to explain honestly the beauties of the laws of nature in a way that people can feel, without their having some deep understanding of mathematics. I am sorry, but this seems to be the case,” he generally eschews the use of mathematics, instead relying on captivating and memorable metaphors and demonstrations.

Feynman’s humor and humility (“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum physics.”) glow from the page, and complex ideas, couched in this inviting warmth, seem more accessible and comprehensible. Perhaps more endearing, however, is his enthusiasm. As he states near the end of the book, “The age in which we live is the age in which we are discovering the fundamental laws of nature, and that day will never come again.” Not only was Feynman one of the foremost discoverers of that age, he also, to our great benefit, was among its best teachers.

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