Sunday, October 23, 2011

Feynman, a graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

A review story.

Recently, my dad handed me a graphic novel called Feynman, about Feynman. This 250 page comic-biographical work, here, was not read by someone who knew Feynman personally, or was even alive when he was. While, beforehand, I have to say I can't personally vouch for how representative this is, it definitely meshed with my vague impressions of how Feynman was supposed to be in life. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! is apparently a collection everyone, myself and readership included, should read if they want to get a deeper feeling for this hilarious legend of physical research.

It is alluded to that the writers were going for something that felt like Feynman. Events are not presented in precise order, although the eras of his life do basically come one after the other. It backbone is an artistic reconstruction of pieces of Feynman's life and activities, from his romances to his work in the Manhattan Project. Attention is given to a number of dimensions of his character, of course prominently featuring his eccentricity, but also the deep humanity that was supposed to characterize at least a moment, here and there, of the man's reflection and thought. The science and math he was working on features prominently as a thing that appears often and sometimes explained in more detailed, lay terms, but as is usual the book doesn't contain anything that's absolutely incomprehensible without a grasp of quantum mechanics.

The perspective is a strange kind of long term first person narrative from Feynman, almost all the way through to his death; when the story is still in his childhood, narrating Richard is definitely an adult, but then in his middle age and later it is perhaps not meant to be entirely clear if the perspective is from a Feynman of the near future (relative to where the story is), or if it's basically Feynman as he would have told his story very shortly before his death.

For those of you that happen on this review, commissioned by one who shall remain anonymous, I highly recommend this work. There's no light read quite like the short and elegant construction of a character such as this to put in your head and feature for a day's entertainment.

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