The title and intro are cunningly misleading: at most 20% of the book is about Feynman. The rest is about the author’s own struggle to get through life and find his true calling. Of course you can argue it’s “inspired by” Feynman, but that’s an entertainment industry term with which Mlodinow must be quite familiar as the scriptwriter of some TV shows, including Star Trek. He’s also the co-author of Hawking’s sequel A Briefer History of Time, another notorious Hollywood tradition. At least Mlodinow is honest about the twisted-truth nature of the book upfront: “I have combined and altered events, and … have altered names and personalities in order to best portray my experience”.
The one story that I hope is true is about his garbage man friend Ray, who is said to move to Bellevue, WA to be with his girlfriend in a micro software company around 1981. He hoped to find a programming job there since he’s good at math. Wonder if he can calculate his net worth by now.
Anyway the book is still not a bad read about Feynman’s last years. Most of Feynman’s words from Mlodinow’s transcription is quite predictable: do what you love, follow your instinct, use your imagination, and admire nature’s intrinsic beauty–that’s where the title came from.
The contrast between Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann is the most interesting part of the book. Gell-Mann has been working on complexity theory (he coined a word “plectics” for it) in the last 20 years and more, and maybe he and Stephen Wolfram, two of the most brilliant people ever lived, have been secretly collaborating. I guess now he understands why he and Feynman couldn’t keep Wolfram at Caltech or in the field of particle physics–they’re both after the real Theory of Everything.
What would Feynman say to them? “Just look at the rainbow, you pompous big heads…”