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 (US)
Publication date
1985 (US)
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? 


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 scientists 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, 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.[2]

The book's 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.[3]


Murray 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.[4]

Feynman was criticized for a chapter titled "You Just Ask Them?" where he recounts picking up a woman by deliberately insulting her with a misogynistic term after the woman seemingly plays him for free food.[5][6][7] Feynman states at the end of the chapter that this behaviour wasn't typical.

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  1. ^ "Overview of Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!". W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. ^ Feynman, Richard (1974). "Cargo Cult Science" (PDF). Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!. Retrieved 2021-02-19 – via
  3. ^ Feynman, Richard (1997). Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-393-31604-9 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Johnson, George (July 2001). "The Jaguar and the Fox". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  5. ^ Gleick 1992, pp. 287–91 and 341–45.
  6. ^ Urry, Meg (August 9, 2014). "Male scientists, don't harass young female colleagues". Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  7. ^ Koren, Marina (October 24, 2018). "Lawrence Krauss and the Legacy of Harassment in Science". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 14, 2021.

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