I’m listening to it again. Not the first, second, or third time. Maybe the fifth or sixth? When life gets too weird, I need a “Bellwether” fix. It’s novel — a short one — Connie Willis and along with several books by Douglas Adams, is one of the books that keeps me sane when all the world is going out of its way to drive me batshit.
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 the leader of a flock of sheep. She is — the bellwether is always female — an über ewe. She is the sheep who the flock always follows. There’s no specific reason why the bellwether leads and no reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.
What the bellwether does, other sheep do. They don’t have to think about it — not that sheep do a lot of serious thinking. Their following is automatic, instinctive. Every sheep in the fold will mindlessly, blindly follow, even over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know they are following a bellwether. They just do it.
We have bellwethers. One of them is president. His followers are akin to sheep. They don’t examine. They don’t think. They don’t care what “their bellwether” is doing because she is the sheep all of them follow. We no more recognize our bellwethers than do the sheep. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA which says some are born to lead, others to follow. A few will walk their own way.
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, they change the world. Bellwether explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history still doesn’t make sense. When you add in a few critical bellwethers, there is a hint of clarity. Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They 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. It helps make the nonsensical almost sensible.