Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume I (caltech.edu)
776 points by trevyn on Sept 13, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 112 comments

I was the project lead on this, which involved converting the Feynman Lectures from LaTeX to HTML. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

Update: Most of the questions center on cost. I've answered in more detail below, but the short version is simple: no off-the-shelf converter was remotely sufficient for our needs, so we had to write lots of custom software, and writing custom software is hard.

Awesome work, I bought the book versions with my first paycheck, only to sell them on years later. I never read them :'(

Now I've just read the first two chapters online, and I have a question. Have the lectures been updated to 2013 physics, or should I read comments like this:

"We seem gradually to be groping toward an understanding of the world of subatomic particles, but we really do not know how far we have yet to go in this task." (last sentence in chapter 2)

..as being the state in the 1970s?

If so, what has changed then in the "big picture"? String theory?

How were you able to convince the publisher to let you put up an online version for free?

Also, please collect data regarding whether this harms book sales. If it turns out not to have any significant effect, then this could be cited as evidence in any future circumstance where someone is trying to convince a book publisher to approve of releasing an online version of a book.

Thanks for doing this, Michael, it's awesome that this is now available!

I notice the material is copyright Caltech. Any chance that they'd consider releasing it under an open license? A CC-BY license would enable this material to be repurposed and improved in all kinds of interesting ways.

Thanks. The Feynman Lectures IP is a treacherous minefield, and it took a lot of effort even to get this far. I'd love to see a Creative Commons license, but I'd be surprised if it happens.

I try to emphasize to the interested parties that, by doing things like giving away online content and using CC licenses, they stand to make more money (if they execute right), but it's a hard sell to people who don't live on the bleeding edge like we do. And since I don't have equity in the project, my efforts in this direction are strictly pro bono.

Maybe we could crowd-fund this?

Wow. CC-BY-ing the Feynman Lectures would have a meaningful impact on undergraduate education worldwide.

Where I'm sitting in our lab, I'm probably within 50m of at least ten copies.

CC-BY-ing just a few of the old stalwarts (I like the 1970 Sears and Zemansky, for example, and old editions of Thomas' Calculus are fine (probably better than present editions) ) would stop a lot of expensive silliness with the generation of open-source textbooks. Buying out the rights to the best textbooks is in our national interest.

Have you thought about putting the source and scripts into a github repo, and taking community contributions? I'm sure people would pitch in to get later volumes converted.

I'll look into it, but unfortunately this isn't up to me. Convincing the publisher to let us put up an online version was hard enough.

One obvious question: why not use crowd funding to pay for finishing converting volume II and III?

That's worth thinking about. One issue is that it's hard to tell how more more money is needed to finish it. Alas, custom software is rife with uncertainty. (Practically speaking, this means that, e.g., custom hack #37, needed to complete Chapter 17 in Volume I, might not work for Chapter 38 in Volume II, etc., etc. It's a long, hard slog.)

Ask for a million dollars. Its worth it to humanity.

First of all a big thank you for the outstanding work! Does Caltech have any plans to release the LaTeX source? And would a PDF or EPUB be made available (free or otherwise)?

Thanks! I don't know what their plans are. There is PDF version, but I can't find it anywhere (well, not a legal one). I'll look into it.

It turns out the publisher still has authorized PDF sales. I'm not in line to get royalties, so it's not my problem, but I still hate to see a missed opportunity.

> It turns out the publisher still has authorized PDF sales.

Did you mean "has not authorized"? Otherwise, I would gladly pay for PDF editions of the 3 volumes. If they already went with producing a free online copy of the 1st volume, I don't see why they should be against selling official eBook PDF editions for people like me who prefer to read this offline.

Anyway, great job on the conversion, it looks marvelous!

Sorry, I meant to say "still hasn't authorized".

No questions but a BIG thank you

You're welcome! I appreciate the kind words.

You've done a great job capturing the exquisite design of the paper edition. When I saw the title I was expecting jpg scans of the equations, or something worse, and I was surprised of finding something Tufte would be proud of. Thank you very much.

Trevyn, above, mentioned,

> The conversion from LaTeX to HTML was expensive: we raised considerable funds, but ran out before finishing Volumes II and III, so we are only posting Volume I initially.

I don't know too much about digitalisation, but why does it cost so much?

The LaTeX source of the Lectures is long and heavily formatted, so the conversion to HTML involved writing a large amount of custom software, including lots of tests to catch regressions. In other words, this was a speculative software project; as anyone who has experience with such projects can tell you, it is virtually impossible to anticipate all the problems you'll run into. (The costs would have been even higher had I not worked for a reduced rate, often pro bono, because I wanted to help make the Feynman Lectures accessible to a wider audience.)

I am very grateful for your work, and I hate to pick on details, but surely you reused much of what's already available for LaTeX? I hope you didn't spend much of your time reinventing the wheel. I freely admit that I am probably vastly underestimating the amount of work that went into this, reuse or no.

We did make use of as many existing resources as possible. If you take a look at the [Ruby on Rails Tutorial book](http://railstutorial.org/) and [The Tau Manifesto](http://tauday.com/tau-manifesto), both of which are converted to HTML from LaTeX, you'll see that I have deep experience in such conversions. Combined with my previous role as Caltech's editor for the Definitive and Extended Edition of the Feynman Lectures (and my Caltech physics Ph.D.), this made me uniquely qualified to work on this project, which is the main reason I did it. (It certainly wasn't for the money; the opportunity cost of the time I spent on this project was high.)

Unfortunately, there's a vast gulf between "kinda-sorta mostly converted"—which is the best you can get with off-the-shelf converters—and "a faithful representation of the Feynman Lectures". Closing this gap required a large amount of gruesome work.

We should actually do a crowdfunding effort to pay you for your hard work for doing Volume I and for future volumes.

Really really appreciate this effort.

I've sent this to some of my deaf friends who are studying or trying to get into Physics and they are over the moon about this.

I would absolutely pitch in if someone organised a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for mhartl, even just to pay him back for the current efforts. I'm ecstatic that the lectures now exist online!

Hello, all. Many people seem to have gotten the impression from my letter that because we ran out of funds paying for the conversion of FLP Volume I from LaTeX to HTML we need additional funds to complete the conversion. However, that is not the case because some chapters of Vols. II & III were also converted for us (though imperfectly), and after comparing the Vol. I HTML to the original LaTeX, I found I could do the conversion myself quite easily using parametrized regular expression search and replace operations and a minimum of hand-editing. I am able to convert one chapter of FLP from the LaTeX to HTML in about 2 hours. I have been working on completing the remaining Vols. II & III chapters in my spare time, and they are very nearly done. Only a few chapters remain to be converted, and a few others only need some HTML tables. We are planning to make a second release when our two PDF editions (formatted for the desktop and for tablets) are available for sale online. In fact, the PDF editions have been ready for a long time, but the publisher is having some difficulties getting them into their retailers' sales queues. Today we have the first evidence of the publisher's success in resolving the difficulties:


So, hopefully it will not be long before we add the completed Vols. II and III chapters to the published HTML edition, with the few remaining chapters to follow shortly.

   Michael A. Gottlieb
   Editor, The Feynman Lectures on Physics

This was one of my first thoughts; I know it's oversimplifying it by a wide margin, but there is a latex2html program in existence.

Unfortunately, there's no general mapping from LaTeX to HTML, so for any realistic pre-written source you have to write many custom modifications to complete the conversion. This is a time-consuming and error-prone process, involving a large amount of custom software.

There are various ways to do this, none of them perfect. Online searches suggest that "htlatex" (for HTML output)and "xhlatex" (for XHTML output) are pretty good:


This is outstanding. Thank you for the effort.

Has there been any consideration of making a semantic version of the equations involved? The great thing about having this on the web, is I could easily see myself maintaining links in long calculations to various formulas as the authority.

(Also: what's the font in the SVG images? It's great!)

If you're asking about the equations etc, the site uses MathJax to render LaTeX.

From browsing around, it looks like an exceptionally well done conversion. Thanks for doing it.


Microsoft Research announced on Wednesday that Mr. Gates, who purchased the rights to the videos privately from the Feynman estate, BBC and from Cornell University, in cooperation with Curtis Wong, a Microsoft researcher, has created a Web site that is intended to enhance the videos by annotating them with related digital content.

Project Tuva http://research.microsoft.com/apps/tools/tuva/index.html

Thanks for the link.

I'm really glad he's made this available on line. And at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I wish it didn't require silverlight.

> And at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I wish it didn't require silverlight

That's a very sad requirement indeed.

It's also on the Pirate Bay.

Try this from a Linux machine. http://www.go-mono.com/moonlight/redirector.html

I got the following 403 Error, which is kind of amusing.


  You don't have permission to access /moonlight/redirector.html on this server.
  Apache/2.2.22 (Ubuntu) Server at www.go-mono.com Port 80

I wish the audio didn't have noise artifacts ("clicks") from SilverLight's encoding that make it a bit annoying to listen to after a while, and that Microsoft had listened to it after encodeing or would have been so kind as to fix after it was brought to their attention years ago.

Hopefully it will work with moonlight but somehow I doubt it. It's most likely for silly DRM reasons :(

What better way to preserve such a valuable educational resource for the future generations than wrapping it into a failed proprietary content platform designed to keep people from using the content!

Did you find any DRM on the content or do you just like to whine?

The Microsoft project seems to only be the "Messenger Lectures" that Feynman gave at Cornell in 1964, not the more well-known Caltech lectures. They're still a fantastic watch and kudos to billg for putting up the money to obtain the rights.

There are a ton of Feynman lectures on this YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/FeynmanVideoLectures/videos although I'm unable to tell if they are authorized / legitimate. They've been up for 3 years, though, so presumably they would have been DMCA'd by now if they weren't.

[2009], by the way.

These are great. Not just the content but love how they are presented. I wish all the lectures in colleges were as rich an immersive as these.

You can read the first answer to this Physics SO question (http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/29355/reading-the...) to see how these lectures fare in light of later findings.

Physics SE

By far my favorite piece of writing from Feynman is QED:


Out of all his writings, this is the one that has always stuck with me.

Feynman long held that one does not understand something if one cannot explain it to someone who is not deeply steeped in the subject already. I regard this lecture as probably the culmination of that philosophy for Feynman. Anybody with a deep mathematical background will be stunned on reading this book to realize that, oh, he was actually just talking about complex numbers and the path integral formulation all along.

Taken from one of those reviews, I don't need to say much more than this: "He does close to the impossible by explaining the rudimentary ideas of Quantum Electro Dynamics (QED) in a manner that is reasonably accessible to those with some physics background"

The videos that were essentially transcribed into that book are legally available to watch online.


I recommend the book over the video lecture because I think the book explains it better.

I'm in the middle of reading "Surely you're joking, Mr. Fenyman!", and so far, it is a FANTASTIC read. He has so many interesting stories about fiddling with stuff as a kid, working on the manhattan project, picking locks, interactions with Oppenheimer, Einstein, etc.

Even if you aren't at all interested in physics, math, or anything science related, I would still recommend this book.

That said, I now have a lot more reading to do. I know almost nothing about physics, and this collection looks like the perfect introduction. I'm going to read it in Mr. Fenyman's voice, and try to have the same curiosity as he did as a kid. Very excited to see this post.

This book (Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman) is absolutely fantastic. The first time I read it, I opened it up in the middle and just started casually reading an excerpt. I ended up reading to the end in one sitting, going back to the beginning, and continuing to point where I started. It was that good.

I know how you feel! I started reading it on a plane, and I remember feeling cheated when the plane landed and I had to put the book away. Didn't the airline understand that reading Surely You're Joking is more important than their petty schedule?

It is the best collection of memoirs I've read by an order of magnitude, and the sequel - What do you care what other people think? - is great too!

I found it interesting how radically different his teaching premise is from the current U.S. public school approach. From the preface:

I thought to address them to the most intelligent in the class and to make sure, if possible, that even the most intelligent student was unable to completely encompass everything that was in the lectures.

If I recall the introduction correctly, the lectures were kindof a failed pedagogical experiment because of this - it worked well for the best students, but the mediocre/worse students did a fair amount worse than in previous years. I don't think Caltech continued to teach the first two years in the Feynman style after this.

But regardless, the lecture series is a wonderful overview on the actual physics, even if it doesn't work that well as a straight textbook.

Failed experiment or no, it's probably the single most influential set of undergraduate physics classes ever taught. Grad students attened these classes too, and nearly everyone in the field has a copy of these lectures sitting on the shelf.

They're not a singular reference, but they're really good. His rachet and pawl lecture is timeless.

These lectures are awesome if you have already encountered the material and want to start over from scratch really internalizing it this time. If you use them as a first-time learner you are likely to be pretty confused.

As a family friend once said to me, when I was a student (I studied physics before switching to Computer Science): "The Feynman Lectures are wonderful. While you are actually physically reading them, you feel as if you understand."

But what if there's a student in the class more intelligent than Feynman... oh wait.

This is awesome!

You can read the Feynman lectures either as a first-year UGRAD, a last-year UGRAD, or even as a graduate student and you will always find lots of things to learn.

The thing that I appreciate the most about Feynman's teaching is he shows you how to derive things from first principles. That is what learning should be like---just stating results is not enough: the teacher's job is to show (intuitively or formally) how the result is derived from other things the student knows.

There are Feynman videos online as well, but unfortunately, they require Silverlight. Reading the headline, I was hoping that they'd finally made them available in an open format.

They don't even work in Chrome with Silverlight installed. Microsoft is a silly, mediocre company.

Original email from this morning to give some color:

Dear Feynman Lectures Forum Members,

Have you ever wished there was a high-quality up-to-date version of The Feynman Lectures on Physics available online? One that could be read with a browser so you could study FLP on your smartphone, tablet, notebook or desktop computer, whenever you felt like it? For free? Well, now there is, and you are among the first to hear about it!

A few words about the free HTML edition of FLP (New Millennium Edition)

It was an idea conceived many years ago, when through FL website correspondence I became aware of the many eager young minds who could benefit from reading FLP, who want to read it, but for economic or other reasons have no access to it, while at the same time I was becoming aware of the growing popularity of horrid scanned copies of old editions of FLP circulating on file-sharing and torrent websites. A free high-quality online edition was my proposed solution to both problems. All concerned agreed on the potential pedagogical benefits, but also had to be convinced that book sales would not be harmed. The conversion from LaTeX to HTML was expensive: we raised considerable funds, but ran out before finishing Volumes II and III, so we are only posting Volume I initially. (I am working on finishing Volumes II and III myself, as time permits, and will start posting chapters in the not-too-distant future, if all goes as planned.)

When you read our HTML edition you will notice a floating menu in the top right corner with Twitter, Facebook, and email buttons (to tell your friends about it!), navigation buttons ('last chapter,' 'table of contents', and 'next chapter'), a "contact us" button (that sends email to me), and a "Buy" button that links to a page of advertising for our books and ebooks, with links to retailers' web pages. To support our effort in producing and maintaining the HTML edition, and to help us keep it free, I would appreciate it very much if you would take some time to explore the retailer's pages through the links on our "Buy" page.

Enough said!

You can access the free HTML edition of FLP either by going to the home page of www.feynmanlectures.info and clicking on "Read," or you can go directly to it at either of two servers:

www.feynmanlectures.info/flp or www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu

(So what's the difference between the servers? I maintain the site at feynmanlectures.info, so changes are reflected there immediately. On the other hand, feynmanlectures.caltech.edu is generally faster and more responsive. The entire edition is mirrored from feynmanlectures.info to feynmanlectures.caltech.edu every day, so the latter is current within 24 hours.)

- hope you enjoy the new edition! If you like it, please tell your friends.

Best regards,

Mike Gottlieb Editor, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, New Millennium Edition

P.S. If you've received this email more than once, I apologize. We're having some problems with our mail servers this morning!

I've always felt that the one thing missing from my education was at least some basic understanding of physics. I've flicked through the chapters and I have come across many topics before but by proxy of other subjects such as game programming,chemistry and some applied math. Now I have a book to read that will plug obvious gaps in my learning. I particularly like the 'relativistic' illustrations in the units of scale chapter. The descriptions on durations less than a day are quite illuminating and enjoyable. It's funny that I have spent years learning to build huge complex concurrent distributed systems and compute Monte Carlo simulations on clusters, all very abstract and intangible; and yet I have been intimidated with anything beyond a pop culture knowledge of physical phenomena. Thank you for the book.

BTW - Nice touch on the equations.

ThIs is wonderful...I have PDF copies of this from some forgotten torrent long ago and had consider trying to make them parseable but never got around to it. I can understand why they still want to make book sales from it...hopefully this will actually spur people to buy the books after they are able to sample them online

Every single one of those old PDFs, especially OCRs, are full of errors, now corrected in this edition. There's a long history of errata, old and recent, and in which editions they were corrected, at feynmanlectures.info

Thank you so much for doing this!

I wish Prof Landau had given some lectures (atleast audio, in english?). I think it is logical for the "eternal physics enthusiast(student)" to move from FLP to Landau & Lifschitz's books.

Be careful. Using wget can get you hacking conviction...

Seriously. Ask Bradley Manning...

As I understand it, it was a technicality they got him under: don't use software not officially sanctioned on official machines.

Go forth and use wget on your own machines!

Audible has the audio of the lectures available (not for free) in good quality as well.


I shoplifted the 3-volume hardcover set of Feynman Lectures from the Borders bookstore in Cambridge in 2003. I would be happy to make partial amends for this by donating the full retail cost to any efforts to digitize volumes 2 and 3.

I tried watching his lectures as an undergrad and found them a bit confusing. I can follow them now but still find them to be all over the place. I always learn better from reading so hopefully these will work out better.

I just quickly browsed through the lectures and this seems very consistent with Feynman style where there is a lot of text and very little math. From his book "surely you must be joking Mr. Feynman", he mentioned that fundamental understanding is largely is lacking in modern education. Instead, students go on and on about memorizing complex formulas that made no sense to them.

Maybe we're not all smart enough for this, but it does make sense that if we understand the problem well, then the calculation for it will be obvious.

I first read these as an undergraduate physics major. They are fascinating if you already understand the physics, because his approach is always unconventional and a little brain-bending. For an introductory text for those not familiar with the physics, they are often very confusing. I would not recommend them to someone trying to learn physics. Go learn physics elsewhere, but then absolutely come back to Feynman and look at the things you have already learned in a very different light.

Gates is the man seriously for doing this. Feynman is such a great person I am so sad I missed seeing and learning from him. And Carl Sagan of course.

I know how you feel. I "miss" Feynman, and it's weird to miss someone you never met. (N.B. Gates wasn't involved in this project.)

I hope this is continued. I would have loved to have been a student in Feynman's physics classes. Unfortunately, I did not realize this until I had already taken a different path and now my mind has gone enough that it is probably good that I didn't try to attain even 1/10 of what Richard knew because I would have lost it all.

I think Vol. 1 is really masterful. I read somewhere Feynman was most pleased with Vol. 1, and less so with Vol. 2. The material in the second volume is certainly more difficult, and I did not quite finish it myself. I've been busy with other things, and the relatively thin Vol. 3 still sits on the shelf.

Is the material going to be available in some format suitable for Kindle? Or do I need to convert the HTML myself?

I'm really hoping that we can get the original LaTeX someday - the conversion possibilities from that are endless.

Well, since Caltech is still selling the original printed volumes, that's not likely. Nice idea, but it's easy to see why it's not in the cards for now.

So freakin' awesome. These lectures are on my list of 'must have' volumes in any personal library. Generally very easy to read, I found them invaluable when I was going through the physic's curriculum at USC.

If I make it into .mobi or .epub. Can I publish it? (with proper licence of course)

Thank you!

I have been trying to get this book online,but apparently only Microsoft's Project Tuva had a right to them.So one had to watch them on a Windows platform requiring software that cant seem to run on my machine

The courses are absolutely great! There is also an audio version of these lectures, you could hear his students laugh when he'd give one of those witty Feynmanian remarks.

Thanks, this is wonderful. The foreword mentions a set of exercises that are only loosely coupled with the lectures themselves -- are these freely available anywhere?

Is there a similar project to make Feynman Lecture on Computation easily available? I've been trying to find a decent digital copy for the longest time.

Have they finally updated the lectures to use SI units?

The lectures were given a long time ago. That would be like asking to have a 19th century math textbook rewritten to use modern vector notation.

As far as I know, the Feynman Lectures have always used SI units.

I just checked Chapter 4, and it has inches and ounces. I could be wrong, since I haven't read it, but I don't see why it would affect understanding of the ideas.

The Lectures may occasionally mix in Imperial units, but the vast majority of the calculations use SI.

Was anyone else really happy to see the images seem to be predominantly SVGs? Open-standards-based vector graphics make me super happy.

Are the audio files available as well? I know there's the Silverlight version, but looking for audio I can play while I drive.

Audible has all the lectures available for download in good quality format. http://www.audible.com/search/ref=sr_1_18_asrch?searchAuthor...

You are then missing everything written on the blackboard. Even the order of presentation doesn't match the one in the books.

I don't think they're widely available, but you can get mp3s (2.5 GB) if you know where to look... [1] They're not very high quality, it'd be cool if Bill Gates paid some audio engineers to clean them up. (I found a simple 1KHz low pass filter in Audacity helps quite a bit.)

[1] https://mega.co.nz/#!eYJ2SaZY!PuMb5BI4j4XrEX8anIZrPmEMbHZ7cQ...

Thank you for this, I got all the 3 volumes over the summer to read, but couldn't finish them but had to return them.

I love Feynman this is much appreciated. I wish there were HD videos of him lecturing.

Is it just me or does everyone else naturally read this in Feynman's voice?


That is just sad. Why do you think most people get nothing out of art? Do you not consider Bach's fugas art? Or the Brothers of Karamazov? Or the statue of Nefertiti?

I suppose you must mean that most people do not get an immediate material benefit out of art. But there is so much more in life than that.

And even if you feel there is no value at all in art, there is still informational value in effective education. And an understanding of physics IS a material benefit.

Except they maybe... will learn some physics?

The whole universe is a hot, dense place.

Nope, it's just another way around: a vast, cold emptiness.

Depends on when you look at it.

The average density of the universe is the same as 1 hydrogen atom / cubic meter. Pretty damn empty.

The Earth, by volume, has less than 1 person per 100 cubic kilometers. Since a lot more people could fit in that space, it's underpopulated, right?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact