Six easy pieces: essentials of physics, explained by its most brilliant teacher

by Richard Philipp Feynman

Paperback, 1995




Cambridge, Perseus books, c1995


Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988) was widely recognized as the most creative physicist of the post-World War II period. His career was extraordinarily expansive. From his contributions to the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos during World War II to his work in quantum electrodynamics, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965, Feynman was celebrated for his brilliant and irreverent approach to physics.It was Feynman's outrageous and scintillating method of teaching that earned him legendary status among students and professors of physics. From 1961 to 1963, Feynman, at the California Institute of Technology, delivered a series of lectures that revolutionized the teaching of physics around the world. Six Easy Pieces, taken from these famous Lectures on Physics, represents the most accessible material from this series. In these six chapters, Feynman introduces the general reader to the following topics: atoms, basic physics, the relationship of physics to other topics, energy, gravitation, and quantum force. With his dazzling and inimitable wit, Feynman presents each discussion without equations or technical jargon.Readers will remember how - using ice water and rubber - Feynman demonstrated with stunning simplicity to a nationally televised audience the physics of the 1986 Challenger disaster. It is precisely this ability - the clear and direct illustration of complex theories - that made Richard Feynman one of the most distinguished educators in the world. Filled with wonderful examples and clever illustrations, Six Easy Pieces is the ideal introduction to the fundamentals of physics by one of the most admired and accessible scientists of our time.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member divisionbyzer0
What can be said? There are few educators as enthusiastic about physics as Feynman. Here he covers the atomic hypothesis and some simple consequences, which personally I found to be the most enjoyable lecture; "basic physics" which is a whirlwind tour of particle physics at the time; the relation of physics to the other sciences; the conservation of energy, in which he heuristically derives gravitational potential energy with little math; the law of universal gravitation; and finally an introduction to quantum behavior.

Those with a physics background and lay people alike should all be able to learn something from here, or if not see something they thought that they knew in a fresh way.

Also the introduction by philosopher and physicist Paul Davies is good and deflates the hyperobjective and impersonal myth, predominent among the way we teach science, that personality and idiosyncratic preferences don't show up in the results of scientists.

It is interesting to note that one can see some "datedness" in these lectures. This isn't a fault but a nice historical picture of things as they were at the time of 62(?): e.g.: the strong force was not fully understood, the weak force was not fully understood, and there was no unification with EM; there was no "standard model"; a lot of inflationary cosmology had not been developed; the theory of plate tectonics was not accepted; Lorenz' results on aperiodic flows was just being published, so the earth sciences were not very well understood.

All in all, a great read.
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LibraryThing member ScoutJ
Not so easy, but fascinating, nonetheless. The first few chapters, very easy and very basic: atoms, basic physics and how physics relates to the other sciences. Once Dr. Feynman gets into Quantum Behavior, however, it does need reading over a few times to really sink in. Overall, well worth it.
LibraryThing member frank_oconnor
It's annoying how they market the man rather than his writings. They're intelligent and incisive, but quite dated. A good primer for those with some working knowledge of physics.
LibraryThing member 5hrdrive
A very enjoyable, but very condense look at the essentials of physics as taught by a brilliant and engaging professor. I just wish there was a little more depth.
LibraryThing member MikeFarquhar
I bought a CD collection of Richard Feynman's CalTech lectures on introductory undergraduate physics a couple of weeks back, and have been wending my way through them. At the same time I've been rereading Six Easy Pieces, the first of Feynman's classic books based on the same material. Feynman, though a reluctant lecturer, was a brilliant one, and these essays serve as well now as they did a generation ago to introduce to the casual reader some of the most exciting concepts in physics. If you have any interest in learning more about physics, and want somewhere to start, you can do a lot lot worse than to start with Feynman.… (more)
LibraryThing member Mary_Overton
Lectures from a series given at Caltech in the early 60s - intended for freshmen, to stimulate their interest in physics.

Special Preface: "Through the distant veil of memory, many of the students and faculty attending the lectures have said that having two years of physics with Feynman was the experience of a lifetime. But that's not how it seemed at the time. Many of the students dreaded the class, and as the course wore on, attendance by the registered students started dropping alarmingly. But at the same time, more and more faculty and graduate students started attending. The room stayed full, and Feynman may never have known he was losing some of his intended audience." pp. xxii-xxiii

"'Quantum mechanics' is the description of the behavior of matter in all its details and, in particular, of the happenings on an atomic scale. Things on a very small scale behave like nothing that you have any direct experience about. They do not behave like waves, they do not behave like particles, they do not behave like clouds, or billiard balls, or weights on springs, or like anything that you have ever seen." pg. 116

"Because atomic behavior is so unlike ordinary experience, it is very difficult to get used to and it appears peculiar and mysterious to everyone, both to the novice and to the experienced physicist. Even the experts do not understand it the way they would like to, and it is perfectly reasonable that they should not, because all of direct, human experience and of human intuition applies to large objects. We know how large objects will act, but things on a small scale just do not act that way. So we have to learn about them in a sort of abstract or imaginative fashion and not by connection with our direct experience." pg. 117

"We would like to emphasize a very important difference between classical and quantum mechanics....We can only predict the odds!.... We do not know how to predict what would happen in a given circumstance, and we believe now that it is impossible, that the only thing that can be predicted is the probability of different events." pg. 135
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LibraryThing member psiloiordinary
138 pages of basic physics as entertainment? Yes.

Written as introductory lectures to the subject for first year University students and then heavily edited for book form.

Feynman personality and idiosyncratic personality shines through. Some maths but not too much for even complete novices to physics.

Quick, clear, simple, elegant.
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LibraryThing member squarespiral
I have a background in chemistry so I cannot aproach this as a novice might - I have the feeling though that for a beginner the book might skim too quickly over a number of concepts. For all others the book might shed a different - and refreshingly so - light on what they already know. Good and interesting read but really only a quick primer to physics.… (more)
LibraryThing member Othemts
Physics is hard. Even stuff I thought I understood is not as clear as I thought. No wonder so many young students dropped out of Feynman’s class while experienced students and faculty took their seats.

“First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will result more or less by common sense.” (p. xx)… (more)
LibraryThing member math_foo
It was delightfully clear and pleasurable to read.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Excellent introduction to physics. Feynman is a great teacher.
LibraryThing member ReubenTD
Great book. Feynman is as enigmatic as usual and his descriptions are vivid and inspiring. He begins discussing atoms and shows us how we can understand the world around us using the simple concept of 'jiggling' atoms. I found this to be a profound and exiting way of understanding how things truly work, for example, why does tea cool down when we blow on it? Well, we cause some of the atoms (well molecules in reality) of the tea to get so excited and jiggly that they break away from the liquid and fly off into the air. The more jiggly they are to start with, the more likely they are to break off, thus the tea gets less jiggly and jigglyness is equivalent to heat. Hence the tea gets cooler. The sections on conversational energy, Gravitation and Quantum mechanics are a little basic but interesting nonetheless (after all these are the easy pieces)!… (more)
LibraryThing member Renzomalo
Reading “Six Easy Pieces” was like sneaking into professor Feynman’s lectures, listening to the master explain his domain and knowing – this is very important – that you will never be tested on the material. It was a pleasure spending time in his brain and wishing it was mine.
It seemed obvious to me that Dr. Feynman was gifted man, the winner of life’s intellectual lottery. It was also obvious to me that no amount of intellectual “elbow grease” on my part was going to level the playing field for, so I was happy to have cheap seats on the 50 yard line while the master warmed up.
A good read for anyone interested in Physics or, for that matter, the shear joy of learning. Three and a half stars from this intellectual dullard. Now on to QED.
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LibraryThing member dannyp777
I have this on my iTouch and listening to it when I go running. Good review of physics 101.
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
I guess my tastes have changed - these just didn't enthrall like they would have a few decades back. I did like one quote from the Special Preface:"

"First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will result more or less by common sense.""… (more)
LibraryThing member kendrabonnett
Richard Feynman is a charismatic writer who tackles difficult concepts in physics and simplify them for the nonscience reader. It reminds me of a basic physics primer and a great review for science lovers.
LibraryThing member rondoctor
Good review of atomic nature of matter, right at the beginning. Excellent insight into the way Feynman taught physics. Drawn from his Lectures in Physics books.




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