Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character
Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman is a wonderful look into the life of Richard Feynman. This book is edited from a taped collection of anecdotes that Feynman had related to his friend Ralph Leighton. These anecdotes show a wonderful glimpse into Feynman’s mind, personality and adventures. They range from winning the Noble Prize to how to pick up girls in bars.
My favorite set of stories concern the time he spent in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He recounts how he learned how to pick locks and crack safes as a way to pass the time.
In one story, he mentions how he was sent to Tennessee to look into the safety of the plant that was refining uranium for the bombs. He noted that there were a number of problems that arose from the secrecy of the project. The people designing the plant had not been told what happens when you put a large quantity of fissile materials in close proximity (it gets really hot). He pointed out, for example, that putting two storage containers on opposite sides of a wall wasn’t a good idea. On another occasion, engineers set out the complex blueprints for the plant. Feynmann looked at them briefly and arbitrarily pointed to a section, asking what would happen if that portion failed. The engineers studied it and excitedly reported that it was a key flaw in the design. They thought he had grasped the entire design in moments when he had really just made them think through their own design.