Six Easy Pieces
The Lectures were designed with the purpose of recruiting and ultimately retaining the next generation of physics students-to-become-physicists at the California Institute of Technology during the sixties. Feynman, who had spent most of his career lecturing to graduate students and fellow physicists, envisioned teaching first and second year students (many who were not majoring in physics but for whom four semesters of physics was a belaboring prerequisite) in the "Feynman style" which emphasized layperson's terms, appropriate analogies, and a light-hearted, often comical vocal delivery. Thankfully, for those of us who were in grade school (or diapers, or nonexistent) by the time he died, Feynman intended from the start of the project that the Lectures be recorded for posterity.
Six Easy Pieces compiles the simplest of the Lectures, utilizing no mathematics, and requiring only a basic understanding of atomic chemistry, for the scientist and non-scientist alike to read, understand, and (ultimately) love.
The book begins with some humorous anecdotes about Feynman from fellow physicists/CalTech lecturers, and an introduction from Feynman explaining the purpose of his lectures, as well as some rather funny bits about some of the problems he had putting them together.
The actual lectures themselves, each roughly thirty pages long, contain primer lectures on atomic motion, basic concepts of physics, physics in relation to other sciences, conservation of energy, the theory of gravitation, and basic quantum mechanics.
The "Feynman style" is hard to quantify without reading or hearing his lectures. Among some of the elements seen in Six Easy Pieces:
- Use of analogies or reference points to quantify large ratios; for example, an apple in relation to the size of the Earth roughly equivalences the relative size of the nucleus in a carbon atom compared to its electron shell.
- Use of commonly known substances and energies, such as water or radio, to illustrate the physics behind different chemical and atomic processes.
- Use of diagrams, most of which he acknowledges as inaccurate due to scaling and the fact that such diagrams are not three-dimensional.
- Italicizing important new terms and topics, a cue for readers with highlighters.
- Acknowledgement, almost apologetically, of that which is still yet unknown in physics, but with hope that the reader will work to further innovation and discovery.