"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"
Adventures of a Curious Character. As told to Ralph Leighton. Edited by Edward Hutchings.New York & London, W. W. Norton & Company, 1985 Stock Code: 136532
NotesFirst edition, first printing, presentation copy, inscribed on the half-title by Feynman to Alice Zorthian, daughter of Jirayr Zorthian, Feynman's close friend and artistic mentor, "To Alice Zorthian for Christmas 1985 Richard P. Feynman". Only two other signed copies of the first printing have appeared at auction, neither specifically inscribed to a recipient as here (Christie's 2019, signed by Feynman, Edwin Macmillan's copy; Sotheby's 2017, signed by Feynman and Leighton).
Feynman's friendship with the Armenian American painter and sculptor Jirayr "Jerry" Zorthian (1911-2004) has been called "one of the most famous artist and scientist collaborations in the history of Southern California" (Armory Arts exhibition introduction, 2008). Feynman recounts their first meeting in the present book: "Once I was at a party playing bongos, and I got going pretty well. One of the guys was particularly inspired by the drumming. He went into the bathroom, took off his shirt, smeared shaving cream in funny designs all over his chest, and came out dancing wildly, with cherries hanging from his ears. Naturally, this crazy nut and I became good friends right away. His name is Jirayr Zorthian; he's an artist" (p. 260). Their arguments about art and science led to an informal agreement: Zorthian agreed to teach Feynman to draw, and Feynman agreed to teach Zorthian physics. Though the physics lessons did not continue for long, Zorthian's influence on Feynman was profound. The physicist continued to make art for the rest of his life, and was eventually invited to exhibit his work publically. Their friendship also endured; when Feynman was asked to put together an invitation list for the reception planned (but never realised) to celebrate his winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, he "made up my list. It had about eight people - my neighbor from across the street, my artist friend Zorthian, and so on" (p. 306). He later wrote a poem, "Ode to a Flower", dedicated to Jerry. It begins, "I have a friend who is an artist", and considers a topic that neither could agree on - namely, who could better appreciate the beauty of a flower: artists or scientists.
Alice Zorthian was born to Jerry and his second wife Dabney (1933-2006). The famous Zorthian family ranch - a 48-acre art junkyard which played host to the likes of Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Charlie Parker - was left to Alice and her brother Alan upon their parents' death.
Edited from taped conversations Feynman had with his close friend and drumming partner Ralph Leighton, Feynman's classic volume of memoirs, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!", includes humorous and insightful stories from his childhood, education at MIT, work on the Manhattan Project, and his teaching and research career. The title refers to the bafflement of an administrator's wife at MIT when the inexperienced young Feynman requested both lemon and cream in his tea. Other memorable stories include his lock-picking escapades at Los Alamos, his request to see a "map of the cat", and the poignant death of his beloved first wife, Arlene.
Although it fast became a best-seller,"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" was first printed in a run of just 3,000 copies. Signed copies of the first printing are genuinely scarce, as Feynman refused to sign his published works, much like his reluctance to accept awards or attend events hosted in his honour. To his publisher he proclaimed, "I'm not going to go on TV and I'm not going to sign any books!" (interview with Lawrence Grobel).
Octavo. Original red cloth-backed red boards, title to spine in gilt. With the dust jacket. Housed in a red quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.
Spine ends and corners lightly bruised and rubbed, a couple of very faint marks to boards, small numerical stamp to front free endpaper, glue of book block visible between pp. 258-9, printer's error resulting in thicker paper along the bottom edges of pp. 268-9 and 276-7, not affecting text; overall a very good, clean copy in the lightly soiled jacket, spine sunned but front and back panels remaining bright, some tears and creasing along top edge.
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