After starting Six Easy Pieces some time ago and then setting it aside for other books, I swept through the final four chapters rather quickly. This is the sort of book that most scientifically literate but physics-weak individuals – myself included – should probably go back and re-read immediately.
Feynman was considered physics’ “most brilliant teacher” and is revered by many not only for his lucidity in teaching but for his more “human” attributes, if you will allow. In this book, it helps to have listened to some of his lectures already, because his authorial voice comes through much more effectively if you can hear his cadence in your head as you read.
Based on Feynman’s seminal 1963 “Lectures in Physics”, which collects his lectures at Caltech, Six Easy Pieces is a slim little volume that packs quite a punch. The book is broken into six chapters, “Atoms in Motion”, “Basic Physics”, “The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences”, “Conservation of Energy”, “The Theory of Gravitation”, and “Quantum Behaviour”. Just reading the titles, it’s easy to see the gradual crescendo which Feynman built in his lectures, from first principles to the rather alien world of quantum physics. Nothing in this book, including the mathematics (which are minimal and do not require much knowledge beyond high school level algebra and geometry), is incomprehensible to anyone who wants to understand it, whether they are burdened with some acalculiac tendencies or not.
I’ve always felt that people educated in the liberal arts, particularly, shouldn’t avoid the hard sciences and maths. It’s important for everyone to understand the subjects discussed in this book because these are the fundamental rules that govern everything around us. Feynman’s writing is an easy way to learn some core principles painlessly and even enjoyably. After a break, and just to test myself, I’ll go ahead and pick up the successor volume, Six Not-So-Easy Pieces, which delves further into this fascinating world which governs every aspect of everything that we know. Highly recommended.
Originally reviewed 13 June 2011.
Find your copy of Six Easy Pieces on AbeBooks.com (title links directly to search results).