When it comes to book recommendations from friends and family, I’m a poor target. I’ve mentioned this before. No one has a better grasp on what I like to read besides me. Then there’s the butterfly effect of reading. Even if someone whose opinion I trust recommends a book that seems interesting, it might be a while before I get to it.
But, if I think the book sounds interesting, I will get to it eventually. It’s just a matter of time. Sometimes, that can be a long time, and those recommending the book have to be particularly patient. A recent book illustrates this in a rather dramatic way.
Sometime back in 1998, my friend (and boss at the time) recommended two “must-read” books. The first was Consilience by Edward O. Wilson. The second was Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jarod Diamond. Not long after he recommended these books, I went out and bought them, and they proceeded to sit on a shelf and collect dust.
This went on for 21 years. Meanwhile, during that 21 year period, I read 780 books, none of which were Consilience or Guns, Germs, and Steel. Until last week.
On March 2, I started to read Consilience by Edward O. Wilson, and I finished the book on March 5. I was in a lull, and trying to figure out what to read next. I was also in the process of packing up books in preparation to move bookshelves so that the walls can be painted. I saw the book sitting on the shelf, and decided it was time.
Why Consilience and not Guns, Germs, and Steel? Well, I’d read and enjoyed other Edward O. Wilson books, most notably Letters to a Young Scientist.
I enjoyed Consilience, thought it a good book, although I thought the first half was better than the second half. What I found most interesting was that the book was written in the early days of the Internet, when the Human Genome Project was still incomplete. Reading Wilson’s predictions about what that would mean for humanity was interesting when compared with what we see today: 23andMe, and similar companies.
So, the book was recommended to me 21 years ago, but I finally got around to reading it, and I feel pretty good about that. I suspect it will be a while before I get to Guns, Germs, and Steel, however. Once again, that butterfly has flapped its wings. Since Consilience, I’ve read Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, and have now moved onto the David McCullough books that I haven’t already read, beginning with 1776, and continuing with the possibility of re-reading some of his books that I have read, most notably John Adams, which is my favorite biography, and which I have already read at least twice.
Sorry, Jared Diamond, it might be a little while, but I’ll get to it someday.