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Under The Microscope

GENIUS: Richard Feynman and modern physics, by James Gleick, Random House 1993, 534 pp, $19.95

Having read and greatly enjoyed Feynman's own books about himself, I was keen to take a look at an account of his life written by someone else, to see if the image of a jokester genius was still apparent.

Gleick's work shows much more of the genius than the jokester. He seems favourably inclined towards his subject, but nonetheless points out some of Feynman's less-than-admirable traits. Feynman does indeed emerge as a genius, and a very human one, fascinated with how the world around him works, bouncing on to new topics (physics or not) as his interests change and doing solid work in many different areas.

As well as being a book about a physicist, Genius is very much a book about science. It covers in considerable detail the developmnt of a number of ideas in physics, the ideas, the false trails, the arguments and jealousies that arise when several researchers are hot on the trail of the same problem. It gives a good account of how high-powered science actually happens.

While Genius is not a book for those with no background in science, neither does it require a university course in physics to follow. It's very readable and well worth a look for those interested in physics or people.

Phil Anderson, NZSM

NATURE'S CHAOS, photographs by Eliot Porter, text by James Gleick; Cardinal, 1991; 126 pp; $39.95

This is a really nice coffee table book. Popular science author Gleick has teamed up with nature photographer Porter to present a delicious visual feast.

The ever-branching, shrinking, repeating, self-similar nature of nature is depicted in ice from Black Island, rock from the Galpagos and thorns from Africa.

No Mandelbrots here, just animals, vegetables and minerals illustrating how maths is reflected in the real world.

Phil Anderson, NZSM