Lot 237
  • 237

Feynman, Richard

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Catalogue Note

"In this series of lectures we shall discuss gravitation in all its aspects." One of the last significant manuscript by America’s greatest physicist in private hands.

Richard Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichiro Tomonaga, for “fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics with deep ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles.” This first general recognition of the significance of quantum electrodynamics was given for work that, in the words of Feynman’s biographer, James Gleick, “tied together in an experimentally perfect package all the varied phenomena at work in light, radio, magnetism, and electrity.” Gleick writes further that at least three of Feynman’s later achievements might also have won a Nobel Prize: “a theory of superfluidity, the strange, frictionless behavior of liquid helium; a theory of weak interactions, the force at work in radioactive decay; and a theory of partons, hypothetical hard particles inside the atom’s nucleus, that helped produce the modern understanding of quarks” (Genius, pp. 8–9). From his crucial work on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos in the 1940s through his pivotal testimony at hearings of the presidential commission on the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, Richard Feynman was recognized as a genius by both the community of elite physicists and by the world at large.

Feynman never wrote a book in the conventional sense. The hugely influential scientific monographs published under his name were in fact transcriptions of his lectures made by students or other physicists in attendance: Quantum Electrodynamics (1961), Theory of Fundamental Processes (1961), The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1963), The Character of Physical Law (1965), Photon-Hadron Interactions (1972), and Statistical Mechanics (1972). Even his two highly successful volumes of popular memoir—Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (1985) and What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)—were transcribed from taped conversations made by Ralph Leighton, a fellow bongo player.

During the period of his greatest activity, the early 1960s at Caltech, Feynman was deeply involved in the editing of his groundbreaking series of post-graduate lectures on gravitation, which had been meticulously transcribed by Fernando B. Morengo and William G. Wagner.

In these lectures, Feynman sought to quantize gravity—to fit this relatively weak force into the scheme of quantum mechanics that had been derived from Einstein’s general theory of relativity.