I read Bellwether again. Each time I read it, I learn something new.

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

Bellwether grabbed me from sentence one. Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, and  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 in the flock follow the bellwether. Everywhere,

Here’s where it gets really interesting. There is no reason why flocks follow a bellwether. The bellweher doesn’t do anything special. Maybe she is just a little bit more determined to get her way. More emphatic. But mostly, there is just something about that ewe that makes all the other sheep follow her. Moreover, if she doesn’t go down that ramp, none of the other sheep will go either. She is President of the Flock.

We are more like sheep than anyone might imagine,

What the bellwether does, other sheep do. 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.

We have bellwethers and we no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. Yet, we follow them. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA?

Some are born to lead, others to follow. A few 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?

Because we are following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them, they do whatever they choose and others follow them … more or less automatically.

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 comes clear.

Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They happen. We can explain them in retrospect, but that’s just a guess. Historians make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself.

Our 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. And if you are me, read it at least one or two more times. This is considered science fiction, though it isn’t exactly. It’s something else.


  1. Interesting! Sheep only ever have the one bellwether, we have several, if not hundreds, in our lifetimes and possibly even at any one moment.

    Was reading an article recently about reason and rationality. We all have reasons we do what we do but relatively few of those reasons are actually rational, based upon pure logic. In humans emotion and prior personal experience generally rules us more than does logic and rationality.

    I’d like to change that but i would not be the first to believe it was reasonable to do so…. and yet here we all are…


    Liked by 2 people

      1. Agreed! I was attempting to highlight the fact that as an “individual” we all have several bellwethers pulling us along with them (likely in differing directions) at any point in time, some of whom we share in groups of varying proportions from planetary on down. 🙂

        Hence our apparent irrationality.

        Sheep keep it simple!



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