J'adore lire les biographies et ce petit livre raconte la vie de Richard Feynman, vue par lui-même. Il raconte la rencontre avec sa première femme, sa mort, quelques endroits qu'il a visités, Bruxelles, Varsovie, le Japon, Puis il nous raconte sa participation à la commission Challenger où il débusque un fossé réel ou fictif entre manageurs et ingénieurs de la NASA. Le tout est décrit avec humour et intelligence. Il finit par quelques pages de réflexion sur "la valeur de la science". J'ai adoré le ton de cet homme "libre", confiant dans sa réflexion et sa curiosité. J'aurais aimé en savoir encore plus...
Richard Feynman is one of the most famous twentieth century Physicists. He is one of those rare scientists who have managed to go beyond the success in the narrow confines of his field of research and become a public celebrity. A big part of this success comes from his persona which combined incredible brilliance with the irreverent and down-to-earth attitude to most problems in life, be they "big" ones like working on the atomic bomb, or the everyday ones that almost all of us are familiar with. It's the latter ones and his quirky and unorthodox approach to them that made Feynman endearing to the general public.
His earlier book "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" was a classic and an inspiration to generations of young scientists who were shown that you can have lots of fun while pursuing a life in science. I myself had read it in single sitting, and had completely been mesmerized by Feynman's wit and irreverent attitude. "What Do You Care What Other People Think" is a further collection of stories and anecdotes from his life. Some of these had been told by others over the years, but in this book they all come together in a single volume as told by Feynman himself. Some of the events and stories presented come from the last few years of his life, and it is hard not to feel the poignancy of the fact that these were some of his last thoughts on subjects and situations that he cared about.
Almost half of the book is dedicated to the investigation of the Challenger disaster. Feynman was on the presidential commission that investigated that disaster, and here we get a full insight into what had been going on during commission's session. Many reports have made it seem that Feynman had single handedly figured out the true cause of the disaster - the faulty o-rings that were not meant to be used in really low temperatures. In this book he sets the record straight and explains that although he was the public face that brought attention to the o-rings, there had been many people behind the scenes who had suspected a problem with them for quite a while. This part of the book is also a very useful and revealing glimpse into the workings of a big governmental and scientific agency like NASA.
The book concludes with few musings on the responsibility of science for social problems. In these musings Feynman turns uncharacteristically philosophical, even almost spiritual. He might not have been the most sophisticated thinkers in these matters, but his instincts were very acute and well worth listening to.
All of those who appreciate Feynman's work and brilliance will be grateful for this honest and easy-going narrative. It is also hard not to think that with Feynman's passing a whole era of Physics had come to an end. Those of us who think that somewhere along the way theoretical Physics had lost its way and had become a caricature of its former self, may wonder if all of that could have been avoided had Feynman lived for another ten years or so. We'll just never really know.