The 'Feynman Lectures on Physics' Are Now Online, So Go Be a Genius

Thanks to CalTech, all three volumes of Feynman's landmark textbooks are now freely available.

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Sep 3 2014, 10:00am

Image: Neftali/Shutterstock

Richard Feynman quotes get thrown around a whole lot. And it's true, he has a lot of good ones, like the bit about no physicist really, truly understanding quantum mechanics. I use that one probably too much. He has a great quip about the false rift between creative or imaginative thought and the pursuit of scientific knowledge, and then of course the classic, "the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man." 

But it was never quips that made Feynman such a force; it was explanations. Feynman was known as the "Great Explainer." As a science-curious person, you know well enough that professional scientists often have dual lives of sorts, where telling normal people about science stuff is different to telling science people about science stuff. Part of the pleasure of reading Feynman, a very huge part, is his attitude that we're really all the same: Hey, layperson, we're just like you! And he made you believe it too.

So, in reading a Feynman explanation, a reader is left with the sense that they're getting the real deal, even if it's in layman's terms or what might be perceived as such. It's no wonder that his textbook series The Feynman Lectures On Physics are claimed to be the most popular physics books ever written, selling 1.5 million copies in English and boasting translations in 12 different languages, according to Open Culture

Thanks to CalTech, all three volumes are now free online in nifty HTML5 formats. You should read them, or at least start reading them. They're even sort of soothing after a while. I certainly haven't finished the Lectures, but I can say that one thing will quickly become clear to the reader: most (other) people that write textbooks have no business writing textbooks. 

That said, the textbook-adverse can find a distillation of sorts in Feynman's "Character of Physical Law" lecture series, which was recorded at Cornell and shown on the BBC. We even started watching them together here on Motherboard. In any case, now you have no excuse not to go forth and be a physics genius.