Book review: What Do You Care What Other People Think?

thinkWhat Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988) is ghost written by Ralph Leighton the son of Feynman’s Caltech collaborator Robert Leighton, who also collaborated with Feynman on writing Surely you must be joking (1985). One third of the 250 pages of the book consist of short, humorous, and easy reading stories. But some of them also contain intensely moving lessons, for example the chapters dealing about his wife who suffered from tuberculosis. These first 80 pages are already worth reading the book!

A story about lessons he learned from his dad contains a very striking quote:

“You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you are finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts.”

The other 2/3 of the chapters are a record of the investigations of The Challenger accident where he became famous for his “dramatic play” with the cold O-rings. In this part of the book he gives his take on the investigation and what really went on behind the scenes, it nicely describes the complete different approach a scientist (Feynman) and a lawyer (Rogers) take in uncovering the cause of the accident.

When Feynman talks about “statistics” the NASA management uses to assess the safety of a flight based on previous flights, he puts forward the following quote:

“When playing Russian roulette, the fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next”

I already looking forward to the precursor Surely you must be joking that, according to different websites, is ought to be even better.

A short clip where Feynman performs his famous O-ring demonstration

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