David A. Antler

Tuva or Bust!

Richard Feynman's Last Journey

By Ralph Leighton

Read: 2020-04-18
Rating: 7/10
ISBN: 978-0-393-32069-5

A fun read which provided laughs, adventure, nostalgia, historical footnotes, and an introduction to a fascinating nomadic culture. Also a related text to one of my all-time favorite books: Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman.

I first learned about Tuva (a remote region of the Mongol steppe) through the discovery of a beautiful album by Vladimir Oidupaa. When, in the exploration of this rabbit hole, I heard there existed a book about Richard Feynman going to Tuva, I knew I wanted to read it. The story also intersects with the movie Genghis Blues through a contact between Ralph Leighton and KPFK DJ Mario Casetta.

Below are a few bookmarks, since I could only find a paper copy of the book.

my notes

We discussed how we might reach our goal. Of course Richard could give a series of physics lectures in Moscow, and then we could all go to Kyzyl afterwards. (Actually, anyone travelling under such circumstances should insist on going to Tuva first, in case some sort of “difficulty” arose after the lectures.) But reacing Tuva that way would be like riding a helicopter to the summit. (p. 16)

Radio Moscow produced a show on Tuva just for Ralph and Richard. (p. 28)

[On the plan to “get lost” and wind up in Tuva] Richard was completely opposed to that plan, because it was deceptive. Acting under false pretenses was one of the biggest sins in his book. (p. 33)

Mario [Casetta], too, had collected Tuva’s distinctive stamps as a boy. (p. 65)

Making a cut-out of a projection of Asia and balancing it on a pin to find the center using an 1850’s map called “Gall’s stereographic projection.” (p. 80)

Feynman taught a class on Idiosynchratic Thinking at Esalen Institute. (p. 94)

We commission two dozen black velvet baseball caps with “TbIBA” and “TUVA” flanking the monument inspired by the eccentric Englishmen, and had “Centre of Asia” written underneath it. (p. 176)

Telex technology and the -XEE suffix. (p. 200)