BELLWETHERS AMONG US – WHERE THEY GO, WE FOLLOW

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

I read Bellwether again. Finished it the other day. Each time I read it — this is the 4th or 5th time — I learn something new.

Bellwether grabbed me from page one … from sentence one. Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years, but never entirely understood.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is a leader of sheep, an über ewe, the sheep who the flock follows. There’s no visible reason why a bellwether leads and nor any obvious reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.

What the bellwether does, the other sheep do too. The flock will follow her — mindlessly, blindly — over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know it’s following the bellwether. They just do it.

Humans have bellwethers too. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. Still we follow them. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? Some are born to lead, others to follow. A few to walk a unique path.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal skills.

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest? Why do we do so many stupid things? The answer? We’re following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them.

You should read this book. It also explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made any kind of sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history doesn’t make sense. But if you add in a few critical bellwethers, it all comes clear.

Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They just happen. We can explain them only in retrospect. That’s what historians are for, after all. To make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself. Human society is chaotic. The only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking. Highly entertaining and funny. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book. I recommend it both in print (Kindle or paper) and audio. It is a book you will read and remember.

Then read it again. There’s more to it than you will get in a single reading.



Categories: Book Review, Books, Entertainment, Humor, Reviews, Sci Fi - Fantasy - Time Travel, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. Since I love Science fiction and dystopia, this book seems like a great choice. Thank you, Marilyn.

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  2. Walk THIS way!

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  3. Raising ducks in Vermont, I became obsessed with studying what I came to call “the flock mind” — how 24 ducks could move as one. Who was the leader? That one — my favorite, Brave Little Hen. But which one *was* she? Was the leader always the same duck? I could often distinguish geese one from the other; their personalities, once you get to know them, are often distinct. But brown hens on a pond? I fancied Brave Little Hen was the confident, daring one, the duckling who had always jumped out of the box to be with people. (Yes, we raised ducklings in our living room till they were big and tough enough to live outdoors.) I marveled at how one — which one? — would seem to have the thought and the other 23 would instantaneously follow. Human eyes couldn’t see. Perhaps a camera could.

    There is nothing sweeter, BTW, than the patter of little duck feet on a living room floor. Try it sometime.

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    • I don’t know if ducks have bellwethers like sheep do. There must be some similar mechanism, I should think. It’s an interesting question. Anyway, you can’t tell the bellwether sheep from the others. They tie ribbons on them or mark them in some way because there is nothing obviously different about them.

      Little duck feet on the floor sound adorable. And my terriers would probably be vastly entertained by it, too … but maybe that is best left unexplored for now 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I do hope you enjoy the book!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I met Connie at Loncon this year! On top of being an amazing writer, she’s the nicest person. It was a real treat.

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  5. One for the list, I think.

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  6. I’ll add it to my list.

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