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Feynman by Jim Ottaviani

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani

Richard Feynman was one of the younger scientists entrusted to work on the atomic bomb, but the graphic novel biography Feynman shows that there is so much more to his life than just those few years.

For one thing, the Nobel-winning physicist was equally fascinated with art, using diagrams to explain his science in a way for which he could not always find the right words. What better representation for an artistic scientist's life than a graphic novel?

The book chugs right along at a stream-of-consciousness pace, as if Feyman is giving one of his lectures without pause. I liked how Ottaviani trusts us to keep up while reading while also giving the book some fancy visuals.

This is best seen when Feynman discusses his ability to see multi-colored equations floating in the air as he ponders them. In a lengthy lecture near the end of the book, Feynman's attempt to explain quantum electrodynamics to the average person, art helps his theories come to life, much like with his own diagrams.

Richard Feynman appears in two other very different accounts of the Manhattan Project, both recently published. The more factual account, Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, is a riveting story of government-mandated secrecy, cunning spies, and the breakneck development to save the Free World by creating a horrific invention. Bomb is a well-crafted ensemble piece that manages to bring scores of scientists and secret agents to life.

Bomb and Feynman overlap a tad. One example is Feynman's delight with picking locks on filing cabinents and safes to look at confidential files. He would hand them back to their owners stating, "Your lock is broken." Still, Feynman really gives you a nice inside track on what was going through his mind at the time. I had no idea that Feynman's first wife Arline, passed away about a month before completion of the project. Yet he kept working studiously, perhaps focusing all his efforts on the project so as to not get bogged down in despair.

The other book featuring Feynman, which I have written about before, is a comic series called Manhattan Projects. What if the atomic bomb was the least reprehensible thing all of these scientist were working on? What if the scientists had secret side projects that were much more hideous? Jonathan Hickman's series combines the story of the real participants of the project with a bizarre dose of 1950s science fiction. Richard Feynman has the nice distinction of being one of the less insidious characters. Alas, the same can not be said for Robert Oppenheimer.

I really loved all three of these books for their ability to adapt science into thought-provoking entertainment, but Feynman was the one with the most heart to it. Richard Feynman never hoped to find the grand answer to the universe. He just wanted to to see it work. Lovingly crafted and thought-provoking, this book will be on my mind for some time.