The Feynman Lectures on Physics

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The Feynman Lectures on Physics
The Feynman Lectures on Physics.jpg
The Feynman Lectures on Physics including Feynman's Tips on Physics: The Definitive and Extended Edition (2nd edition, 2005)
Author Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands
Country United States
Language English
Subject Physics
Publisher Addison–Wesley
Publication date
OCLC 19455482

The Feynman Lectures on Physics is a physics textbook based on some lectures by Richard P. Feynman, a Nobel laureate who has sometimes been called "The Great Explainer".[1] The lectures were given to undergraduate students at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), during 1961–1963. The book's authors are Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands.

The book comprises three volumes. The first volume focuses on mechanics, radiation, and heat, including relativistic effects. The second volume is mainly on electromagnetism and matter. The third volume is on quantum mechanics; it shows, for example, how the double-slit experiment contains the essential features of quantum mechanics. The book also includes chapters on mathematics and the relation of physics to other sciences.

The Feynman Lectures on Physics is perhaps the most popular physics book ever written. It has been printed in a dozen languages.[2] More than 1.5 million copies have sold in English, and probably even more copies in foreign-language editions.[2] A 2013 review in Nature described the book as having "simplicity, beauty, unity ... presented with enthusiasm and insight."[3]

In 2013, Caltech made the book freely available, on the web site


Feynman the “Great Explainer”: The Feynman Lectures on Physics found an appreciative audience beyond the undergraduate community.

By 1960, Richard Feynman’s research and discoveries in physics had resolved a number of troubling inconsistencies in several fundamental theories. In particular, it was his work in quantum electrodynamics for which he was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics. At the same time that Feynman was at the pinnacle of his fame, the faculty of the California Institute of Technology was concerned about the quality of the introductory courses for undergraduate students. It was thought the courses were burdened by an old-fashioned syllabus and the exciting discoveries of recent years, many of which had occurred at Caltech, were not being taught to the students.

Thus, it was decided to reconfigure the first physics course offered to students at Caltech, with the goal being to generate more excitement in the students. Feynman readily agreed to give the course, though only once. Aware of the fact that this would be a historic event, Caltech recorded each lecture and took photographs of each drawing made on the blackboard by Feynman.

Based on the lectures and the tape recordings, a team of physicists and graduate students put together a manuscript that would become The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Although Feynman's most valuable technical contribution to the field of physics may have been in the field of quantum electrodynamics, the Feynman Lectures were destined to become his most widely read work.

The Feynman Lectures are considered to be one of the best and most sophisticated college level introductions to physics.[4] Feynman, himself, however, stated, in his original preface, that he was “pessimistic” with regard to the success with which he reached all of his students. The Feynman lectures were written “to maintain the interest of very enthusiastic and rather smart students coming out of high schools and into Caltech.” Feynman was targeting the lectures to students who, “at the end of two years of our previous course, [were] very discouraged because there were really very few grand, new, modern ideas presented to them.” As a result, some physics students find the lectures more valuable after they obtain a good grasp of physics by studying more traditional texts. Many professional physicists refer to the lectures at various points in their careers to refresh their minds with regard to basic principles.

As the two-year course (1961–1963) was still being completed, rumor of it spread throughout the physics community. In a special preface to the 1989 edition, David Goodstein and Gerry Neugebauer claim that as time went on, the attendance of registered students dropped sharply but was matched by a compensating increase in the number of faculty and graduate students. Sands, in his memoir accompanying the 2005 edition, contests this claim. Goodstein and Neugebauer also state that, “it was [Feynman’s] peers — scientists, physicists, and professors — who would be the main beneficiaries of his magnificent achievement, which was nothing less than to see physics through the fresh and dynamic perspective of Richard Feynman,” and that his "gift was that he was an extraordinary teacher of teachers".

Addison–Wesley published a collection of problems to accompany The Feynman Lectures on Physics. The problem sets were first used in the 1962-1963 academic year and organized by Robert B. Leighton. Some of the problems are sophisticated enough to require understanding of topics as advanced as Kolmogorov's zero-one law, for example.

Addison–Wesley also released in CD format all the audio tapes of the lectures, over 103 hours with Richard Feynman, after remastering the sound and clearing the recordings. For the CD release, the order of the lectures was rearranged from that of the original texts. (The publisher has released a table showing the correspondence between the books and the CDs.)

In March 1964, Feynman appeared before the freshman physics class as a guest lecturer, but the notes for this lecture were lost for a number of years. They were finally located, restored, and made available as Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun.

In 2005, Michael A. Gottlieb and Ralph Leighton co-authored Feynman's Tips on Physics, which includes four of Feynman's freshman lectures not included in the main text (three on problem solving, one on inertial guidance), a memoir by Matt Sands about the origins of the Feynman Lectures on Physics, and exercises (with answers) that were assigned to students by Robert B. Leighton and Rochus Vogt in recitation sections of the Feynman Lectures course at Caltech. Also released in 2005, was a "Definitive Edition" of the lectures which includes corrections to the original text.

An account on the history of these famous volumes is given by Sands in his memoir article “Capturing the Wisdom of Feynman”, Physics Today, Apr 2005, p. 49.[5]

In September 13, 2013, in an email to members of Feynman Lectures online forum, Gottlieb announced the launch of a new website by Caltech and The Feynman Lectures Website which offers "[A] free high-quality online edition" of the lecture text. To provide a device independent reading experience, the website takes advantage of modern web technologies like HTML5, SVG, and Mathjax to present text, figures, and equations in any sizes while maintaining the display quality.[6]


Volume I. Mainly mechanics, radiation, and heat

Preface: “When new ideas came in, I would try either to deduce them if they were deducible or to explain that it was a new idea … and which was not supposed to be provable.”

Volume II. Mainly electromagnetism and matter

  1. Electromagnetism
  2. Differential calculus of vector fields
  3. Vector integral calculus
  4. Electrostatics
  5. Application of Gauss' law
  6. The electric field in various circumstances
  7. The electric field in various circumstances (continued)
  8. Electrostatic energy
  9. Electricity in the atmosphere
  10. Dielectrics
  11. Inside dielectrics
  12. Electrostatic analogs
  13. Magnetostatics
  14. The magnetic field in various situations
  15. The vector potential
  16. Induced currents
  17. The laws of induction
  18. The Maxwell equations
  19. Principle of least action
  20. Solutions of Maxwell's equations in free space
  21. Solutions of Maxwell's equations with currents and charges
  22. AC circuits
  23. Cavity resonators
  24. Waveguides
  25. Electrodynamics in relativistic notation
  26. Lorentz transformations of the fields
  27. Field energy and field momentum
  28. Electromagnetic mass (ref. to Wheeler–Feynman absorber theory)
  29. The motion of charges in electric and magnetic fields
  30. The internal geometry of crystals
  31. Tensors
  32. Refractive index of dense materials
  33. Reflection from surfaces
  34. The magnetism of matter
  35. Paramagnetism and magnetic resonance
  36. Ferromagnetism
  37. Magnetic materials
  38. Elasticity
  39. Elastic materials
  40. The flow of dry water
  41. The flow of wet water
  42. Curved space

Volume III. Quantum mechanics

  1. Quantum behavior
  2. The relation of wave and particle viewpoints
  3. Probability amplitudes
  4. Identical particles
  5. Spin one
  6. Spin one-half
  7. The dependence of amplitudes on time
  8. The Hamiltonian matrix
  9. The ammonia maser
  10. Other two-state systems
  11. More two-state systems
  12. The hyperfine splitting in hydrogen
  13. Propagation in a crystal lattice
  14. Semiconductors
  15. The independent particle approximation
  16. The dependence of amplitudes on position
  17. Symmetry and conservation laws
  18. Angular momentum
  19. The hydrogen atom and the periodic table
  20. Operators
  21. The Schrödinger equation in a classical context: a seminar on superconductivity

Abbreviated editions

Six readily-accessible chapters were later compiled into a book entitled Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher. Six more chapters are in the book Six Not So Easy Pieces: Einstein's Relativity, Symmetry and Space-Time.

Six Easy Pieces grew out of the need to bring to as wide an audience as possible, a substantial yet nontechnical physics primer based on the science of Richard Feynman…. General readers are fortunate that Feynman chose to present certain key topics in largely qualitative terms without formal mathematics….”[7]

Six Easy Pieces (1994)


  1. Atoms in motion
  2. Basic Physics
  3. The relation of physics to other sciences
  4. Conservation of energy
  5. The theory of gravitation
  6. Quantum behavior

Six Not-So-Easy Pieces (1998)


  1. Vectors
  2. Symmetry in physical laws
  3. The special theory of relativity
  4. Relativistic energy and momentum
  5. Space-time
  6. Curved space

The Very Best of The Feynman Lectures (Audio, 2005)


  1. The Theory of Gravitation (Vol. I, Chapter 7)
  2. Curved Space (Vol. II, Chapter 42)
  3. Electromagnetism (Vol. II, Chapter 1)
  4. Probability (Vol. I, Chapter 6)
  5. The Relation of Wave and Particle Viewpoints (Vol. III, Chapter 2)
  6. Superconductivity (Vol. III, Chapter 21)

Publishing information

See also


  1. LeVine, Harry (2009). The Great Explainer: The Story of Richard Feynman. Greensboro, North Carolina: Morgan Reynolds. ISBN 978-1-59935-113-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 [1]
  3. Phillips R. (5 December 2013), "The Feynman lectures on physics", Nature, 504: 30-31.
  4. Rohrlich, Fritz (1989), From paradox to reality: our basic concepts of the physical world, Cambridge University Press, p. 157, ISBN 0-521-37605-X<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Extract of page 157
  5. See also: Welton, T.A., “Memory of Feynman”, Physics Today, Feb 2007, p.46.
  6. Footnote on homepage of website The Feynman Lectures on Physics.
  7. Feynman, Richard Phillips; Leighton, Robert B.; Sands, Matthew (2011). Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher. Basic Books. p. vii. ISBN 0-465-02529-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Extract of page vii

External links