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Bellwether Mass Market Paperback – June 2, 1997
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A sociologist who studies fads and a chaos theorist are brought together by a strange misdelivered package. This book has all the wit and clever writing that characterized Willis' earlier Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Kirkus Reviews
Here-and-now speculative yarn involving chaos theory and statistical prediction, from the author of the fine Doomsday Book (1992), etc. Employed by the HiTek company, Sandra Foster is trying to develop a theory that can predict how and why fads and trends begin. But her attempts to computerize her data (mostly in the form of magazine and newspaper clippings) are constantly frustrated by the awful Flip, the erratic, forgetful, careless interdepartmental assistant. Still, Flip does lead Sandra to meet biologist Bennett O'Reilly, who thinks he's discovered a hidden factor within current chaos theories. As Flip blunders about--ghastly black lipstick, weird clothes, faddish accessories, attitude problem and all-- Sandra and Bennett decide to set up a joint project to test their ideas on the behavior of a flock of sheep. HiTek's management heartily approves--such a project might well win the coveted Niebnitz Grant. Sandra and Bennett learn that a bellwether sheep unconsciously acts as a catalyst to determine the entire flock's behavior. Bingo! Flip, while seeming totally incompetent, unknowingly acts as a human bellwether, causing fads and trends to crystallize around her as she lurches chaotically through life. Willis's intriguing notion comes across with the authority of a genuine insight--and probably merits a more dramatic and thoroughgoing workout than the agreeable but bland treatment it receives here. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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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 will do. They don't have to think about it -- not that sheep do a lot of serious thinking. The following is automatic, instinctive, and 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 our president. His followers are akin to sheep. They don't examine or think. They don't care what "their bellwether" is doing because he is the sheep they follow. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep.They lead. We follow. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? Some are born to lead, others born to follow. A few will 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 still doesn't make sense. When you add in a few critical bellwethers, it 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 as audiobook. It is a book you will read and remember. Then read it again.
The book reads a bit like the memoir of a social scientist, who works for a private research firm trying to understand fads. Somewhat cynical but also very human, she has a good sense of humour and enduring optimism. She interacts with equally fascinating and sometimes mysterious characters, progressing towards her final discovery, though not necessarily in a straight line.
A great story, very original and well written. Highly recommended.
One thing that got old very quickly was the authors seeming disdain for anyone under twenty five. All the younger characters were sullen, arrogant, and were constantly 'rolling their eyes'. Seriously, how often do you have to write that so-and-so "Rolled her (or his) eyes" before you decide you need a new descriptor? With all the eye rolling going on I'm surprised all the young people didn't become nauseous and puke. Towards the end I just rolled my eyes every time someone rolled theirs.
Most recent customer reviews
What else would you want in a book.
Connie Willis is a genius writer, and I really love reading her.