“There are two types of genius. Ordinary geniuses do great things, but they leave you room to believe that you could do the same if only you worked hard enough. Then there are magicians, and you can have no idea how they do it. [Richard] Feynman was a magician.”
-Hans Bethe, Theoretical physicist and Noble laureate
"[A]ll the sciences are related and are as interesting as one another because there are descriptions of nature. The main problem to keep in view when struggling to get speakers is not so much the subject matter, but the scientific quality of the speaker. A good man interested in his work, and not a quack trying to sound important is what you need."
-Richard Feynman, from the offered letter
FEYNMAN GIVES ADVICE TO LECTURE SERIES COMMITTEE CHAIR OFFERING REVEALING AND QUINTESSENTIALLY FEYNMAN ADVICE: "A good man interested in his work, and not a quack trying to sound important is what you need."
“No one can do anything alone, and all the influences of parents, teachers, and friends add up to make a success. In my case, I have always been conscious of the very large contributions given me by my school.” -excerpt from Richard Feynman’s 1965 telegram to the Far Rockaway High School Science Chairman
American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Dr. Richard P. Feynman was a descendant of Eastern European immigrants who settled in Far Rockaway, Queens. The world knows him for his work at California Institute of Technology, his contributions in Quantum Electrodynamics, the Manhattan Project, and the Challenger Shuttle Commission but he never lost the curiosity that he developed as a student at Far Rockaway High School.
After being awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1965 he was invited to speak at Far Rockaway High School in January 1966. He presented at a school-wide assembly, attended a luncheon in his honor, and went to science classrooms to discuss subatomic physics. His visit was well-received by students and faculty who reported that he used layman’s terms, slang, gestures and sound effects to help students better understand scientific principles. Following Dr. Feynman’s visit, the school passed a resolution calling for a series of science lectures to honor the work of this renowned 1935 Far Rockaway High School graduate.
The Feynman Lecture Series was launched in November 1966 and Committee Chairman Jay Rothstein invited Feynman to attend. The letter we have on offer is Dr. Feynman’s typed response with his signature in which he graciously declines to attend, citing his inability to travel the long distance from California to New York.
Dr. John C. Stewart, professor of geology at Brooklyn College delivered the inaugural lecture of the Feynman Lecture Series, “Dinosaurs, their Evolution and the Adaptation” on November 22, 1966 before an audience of 1,100 students and parents. Dr. Isadore Rubin, editor of Sexology magazine, gave the second lecture, entitled “Sex Education in a Changing Society” on February 16, 1967. Dr. S. Ichtiaque Rasool, staff member for NASA, gave the closing lecture “The Origin of the Solar System” on May 18, 1967. An archive related to the 1966-1967 lecture series accompanies the signed letter from Dr. Feynman (see below for contents).
A legendary teacher, showman and physicist, Dr. Feynman’s remarkable career inspired students, young scientists, and those who dared to dream up the impossible. He never abandoned his commitment to helping others, remaining active as a lecturer and researcher until the end of his life. This letter, his relationship with his alma mater, and the Richard Feynman lecture series at Far Rockaway High School honor his inquisitive spirit and his legacy as “the most brilliant, iconoclastic and influential of the postwar generation of theoretical physicists.” (Gleick)
Included with the letter is an archive of material relating to the 1966-1967 lecture series: a poster advertising a lecture on Dinosaurs, a typed letter signed to Rothstein from the chairs of the Feynman Lecture Series Committee, a 3-page carbon copy of the Committee's introduction to the 1966-1967 lectures, various clippings from the school's newspaper about the lectures, 4 black and white photographs of lecturers from the 1966-1967 series, and 3 tickets to the lectures in that series.
Typed letter signed ("R. P. Feynman"), to Mr. Jay Rothstein, 5 December 1966. 1 page (8.5x11 in), on California Institute of Technology stationery. Usual folds (but very mild); a little creasing to edges; a rectangle block of mild toning to paper (possibly from once being framed). Housed in custom presentation folder.
Full text of Feynman’s letter on California Institute of Technology stationery:
5 December 1966
Mr. Jay Rothstein
Far Rockaway High School
Beach Twenty-Fifth Street
and Ocean Crest Boulevard
Far Rockaway, New York 11691
Dear Mr. Rothstein:
Thans (sic) very much for the tickets to the lecture. I am sorry I am not closer so that I could make use of them.
The subject seems fine -- there need be no reason to limit it to physical science -- all the sciences are related and are as interesting as one another because there are descriptions of nature. The main problem to keep in view when struggling to get speakers is not so much the subject matter, but the scientific quality of the speaker. A good man interested in his work, and not a quack trying to sound important is what you need.
I hope your lecture was a success. The subject sounds good to me. Continued luck with your project. Thank you for honoring me in this way.
R.P. Feynman (signed)
The Chat. Far Rockaway High School Newspaper. Nov. 17, 1965.
Richard P. Feynman. Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character). W.W. Norton, 1985.
James Gleick. “Richard Feynman Dead at 69; Leading Theoretical Physicist.” The New York Times, February 17, 1988.
Price: $9,500 .