Feynman: From Esalen to Einstein

Sep 21, 2011

Award-winning Pasadena artist Leland Myrick  has joined forces with author Jim Ottaviani to produce a unique take on one of Pasadena’s most colorful characters: the all-around genius, iconoclast and bon vivant Richard Feynman.

An almost-straightforward, chronological narrative of Feynman’s life, the book – now a New York Times bestseller – with six or so full-color panels per page, takes us via a few flashbacks from Far Rockaway, where Feynman grew up, to Caltech, where he finally found a home, via MIT,  the Manhattan Project, Cornell, Princeton and Brazil.  You get the full flavor for Feynman’s genius for physics, and along the way there are heady discussions of quantum physics, mathematics, aesthetics and God, as well as wrenching decisions, deaths, births and a Nobel Prize.  Some of his other endeavors get short shrift (i.e., the Caltech Dramatic Society and his devotion to music), but it’s difficult to do justice to an intellect this wide-ranging without, in the graphic-novel format, seeming to write a “super-genius” fantasy.

And it’s the real stuff that is so fascinating. Feynman’s relationship with his first wife brought me to tears; trying to understand some of the more esoteric equations nearly did too. Reading quantum physics explanations in comic-book format is not for everybody, perhaps, but the authors are able to capture some of the dynamism and quirkiness of Feynman’s lectures through panel series that cut among the famous Feynman squiggly line equations, a representation of his visual thinking, and his deadpan humor. A special shout-out to the friendship between Jerry Zorthian and Feynman solidly anchors this book in our own hometown and makes you wonder who your own genius next door might be. The bibliography is spectacular and thorough—it will send you wandering through bookstores and YouTube in search of more of this remarkable man.

Feynman, by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (First Second, $29.99). Available at Vroman’s and other local booksellers.



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