Friday, October 07, 2005

I run hot and cold

on the New York Review of Books; sometimes it's great, and then there are weeks and weeks where it's this to-me-completely-offputting-heavy-duty-only-male-authored-mostly-foreign-policy-related thing and the issues pile up and greet me reproachfully as a reminder of my own frivolity. I am more the TLS type--I like the combination of eclecticism and eccentricity and sometimes misdirected intellectual firepower you see in their pages--but both tend to pile up in any case, to tell the truth.

The latest NYRB, though, is a particularly rich and enjoyable one from the literary-and-humanities-and-science point of view. I found almost everything grippingly interesting as I read through it earlier this evening at the laundromat: Joyce Carol Oates on Cormac McCarthy, and an interesting essay by Alma Guillermoprieto about Hugo Chavez, and John Leonard on Joan Didion's new book (I'm not a Didion fan but the book really sounds heartbreaking), and Richard Lewontin on a book by Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd called Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution that I'm dying to read--just shopping-carted it, could swear I'd already bought a copy but evidently not, or if I did it's locked away from me in my temporarily unavailable NY apartment--and a good piece by Avishai Margalit about Stuart Hampshire's last Spinoza and Spinozism book.

But the most engaging essay by far--and the book I most immediately want to read, it sounds completely amazing--is Freeman Dyson's piece on Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman. Here's Dyson introducing one particularly excellent quotation from Feynman:

Every one of the letters is personal. He responded to people's personal needs as well as to their questions. As an example of his personal response, here is the last paragraph of the letter to Koichi Mano which I have already quoted. Koichi was unhappy with his life as a scientist because he was not working on fundamental problems. Feynman replies:

You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself—it is too sad a way to be. Know your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly, not in terms of the na├»ve ideals of your own youth, nor in terms of what you erroneously imagine your teacher's ideals are.

Best of luck and happiness.


Richard P. Feynman

Good, eh?

1 comment:

  1. Richerdson & Boyd = two thumbs up! One of the more enjoyable things we read in M&T!