Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character is an edited collection of reminiscences by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. The book, released in 1985, covers a variety of instances in Feynman's life. The anecdotes in the book are based on recorded audio conversations that Feynman had with his close friend and drumming partner Ralph Leighton.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
First edition
AuthorRalph Leighton and Richard Feynman
CountryUnited States
GenreAutobiography, Biography, Non-fiction
PublisherW.W. Norton (USA)
Publication date
1985 (USA)
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback) also Audio book
Pages350 p. (US hardcover edition) & 322 p. (US paperback edition)
ISBN0-393-01921-7 (US hardcover edition)
530/.092/4 B 19
LC ClassQC16.F49 A37 1985
Followed byWhat Do You Care What Other People Think? 

Book Summary

The book has many stories which are lighthearted in tone, such as his fascination with safe-cracking, studying various languages, participating with groups of people who share different interests (such as biology or philosophy), and ventures into art and samba music.

Other stories cover more serious material, including his work on the Manhattan Project (during which his first wife Arline Greenbaum died of tuberculosis) and his critique of the science education system in Brazil. The section "Monster Minds" describes his slightly nervous presentation of his graduate work on the Wheeler–Feynman absorber theory in front of Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Henry Norris Russell, John von Neumann, and other major figures of the time.

The anecdotes were edited from taped conversations that Feynman had with his close friend and drumming partner Ralph Leighton. Its surprise success led to a sequel entitled What Do You Care What Other People Think?, also taken from Leighton's taped conversations. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! became a national bestseller.[1]

The closing chapter, "Cargo Cult Science," is adapted from the address that Feynman gave during the 1974 commencement exercises at the California Institute of Technology.

The title derives from a woman's response at Princeton University when, after she asked the newly arrived Feynman if he wanted cream or lemon in his tea, he absentmindedly requested both.[2]

The "You Just Ask Them" chapter

Feynman has been criticized for a chapter in the book entitled "You Just Ask Them", where he describes how he learned to seduce women at a bar he went to in the summer of 1946. A mentor taught him to ask a woman if she would sleep with him before buying her anything. He describes seeing women at the bar as "bitches" in his thoughts, and tells a story of how he told a woman named Ann that "You are worse than a whore" after Ann convinced him to buy her sandwiches by telling him he would eat them at her place, but then, after he bought them, saying they actually couldn't eat together because another man was coming over; later on that same evening Ann returned to the bar to take Feynman to her place.[3][4][5][6][7]

Murray Gell-Mann’s reaction

Gell-Mann was upset by Feynman's account in the book of the weak interaction work, and threatened to sue, resulting in a correction being inserted in later editions. This incident was just the latest provocation in decades of bad feeling between the two scientists. Gell-Mann often expressed frustration at the attention Feynman received;[8] he remarked: "[Feynman] was a great scientist, but he spent a great deal of his effort generating anecdotes about himself."[9]

Publication data

  • Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character, Richard Feynman, Ralph Leighton (contributor), Edward Hutchings (editor), 1985, W W Norton, ISBN 0-393-01921-7, 1997 paperback: ISBN 0-393-31604-1, 2002 Blackstone Audiobooks unabridged audio cassette: ISBN 0-7861-2218-8

See also


  1. "Overview of "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"".
  2. Feynman, Richard (1997). Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-393-31604-9.
  3. "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Part 4, Chapter: "You Just Ask Them?", by Richard Feynman (1985).
  4. Gleick 1992, pp. 287-91 and 341-345.
  5. In the aftermath of #MeToo, which names in science should be replaced? by Jane C. Hu (Quartz, Sep 19, 2018)
  6. Male scientists, don't harass young female colleagues, by Meg Urry (, posted 2014-08-09T16:57:06Z, updated 12:57 PM EDT, Sat August 9, 2014)
  7. Lawrence Krauss and the Legacy of Harassment in Science: The theoretical physicist isn’t the first celebrity scientist to be accused of sexual misconduct, but he is the first to face consequences., by Marina Koren (The Atlantic, posted Oct 24, 2018)
  8. Johnson, George (July 2001). "The Jaguar and the Fox". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  9. Murray Gell-Mann talks about Richard Feynman in January 12, 2012 on YouTube
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