More adventures in the world of books

Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while knows that I have a thing about books. My most recent manifesto, detailing the reasons I prefer physical books to ebooks is here, in case you missed it.

Today, I’d like to add another example to the list of reasons that collecting physical books is rewarding and fulfilling for me. About a year ago, I read David Quammen’s book The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of ExtinctionI can’t find enough positive things to say about this book. It’s a sprawling examination of what we know about population dynamics in insular environments, including what happens to those ecosystems in the presence of human interference. I know that sounds pretty boring, but the book stretches way back into the history of ecology (think pre-Darwin) and traces the major studies, people, and  publications that have shaped modern science’s understanding of population dynamics, particularly regarding the circumstances that lead to extinction. Simply put, the book blew my mind. In addition to feeding my interest in natural science, it is also just a damn fine piece of writing. David Quammen pens some of the most clear, insightful, interesting prose you could ever hope to read.

So. I liked the book.

As I do with everything I read and enjoy, I put The Song of the Dodo on my mental watch list for book shopping. My wife, who’s wonderfully indulgent of my book collecting, bought me a first edition for Christmas last year. It holds a place of honor on my bookshelf. The first printing wasn’t terribly large, since this is the kind of book that appeals to a pretty limited audience, and a high-quality copy isn’t something you find just anywhere. In my ongoing obsessive way, though, I couldn’t let it go. I continued in search of a signed copy, and soon enough–at the Half Price Books in College Station–I found one. It’s a paperback, and it’s in pretty good shape, see?

Glorious, right?

Glorious, right?

The signature inside is actually an inscription, which is less valuable than a copy that’s just signed–but again, signed copies of little-known nonfiction books don’t come along every day, so I bought it.

To Bjarne-- --with cordial salutes to your work David Quammen 11/5/05

To Bjarne–
–with cordial salutes to your
David Quammen

Bjarne? That’s odd. Do I pronounce it “Bee-Yaern”? “Buh-journey”? “Bjorn”? I had no idea when I bought it, but the name seemed peculiar enough to yield a fruitful Google search. Sure enough, “Bjarne” is Bjarne Stroustrop. I assume this to be true based on the fact that he’s the only Bjarne who really shows up on Google and the fact that Bjarne Stroustrop is a professor of computer science at Texas A&M, which is right here in town.

I assumed that I now possessed a copy of The Song of the Dodo which had been handled by both David Quammen (which I found very exciting in a book-nerdy way) and Bjarne Stroustrop, some computer guy on campus (which was far less interesting). Satisfied, I shelved the book and kind of forgot about it for several months.

Fast-forward to last week. I was talking about books with Hogan, and the story of my interesting Dodo came up. No sooner did I finish asking how to pronounce that crazy Scandinavian name than Hogan said, “Wait. You mean Bee-Yarn-Ee? Bee-Yarn-Ee Stroo-strup?” (Of course, he didn’t say the hyphens, but it was a big moment for me with regards to pronunciation, so I’ve done you the favor of transcribing the syllables.) Hogan continued, “That guy invented C++!” He should know; Hogan majored in Computer Science at A&M for a while.

My book suddenly got a lot cooler. According to WikiPedia:

Bjarne Stroustrup (Danish: [ˈbjɑːnə ˈsdʁʌʊ̯ˀsdʁɔb]; born 30 December 1950) is a Danish computer scientist, most notable for the creation and development of the widely used C++ programming language. He is a Distinguished Research Professor and holds the College of Engineering Chair in Computer Science at Texas A&M University, a visiting professor at Columbia University, and works at Morgan Stanley.

C++ is one of the world’s major computer programming languages, and Bee-Yarn-Ee created it. I have his book! Almost immediately, I wondered how Quammen and Stroustrup crossed paths. A Google search of “David Quammen AND Bjarne Stroustrup” yields something interesting. The two crossed paths at a meeting of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, in Seattle in November of 1995. In fact, the meeting was held on November 3-6. My copy of Dodo is dated November 5.

This is so cool! I have a copy of my favorite nonfiction book which was signed and personalized by David Quammen for one of the founding giants of the computer world, and I know exactly when and where they met and interacted. Suddenly, I’m a link in a chain of provenance that ties me to two remarkable people.

You just don’t get that with Kindle copies of books.

The only question that remains is “Why did Bjarne Stroustrup sell this fantastic volume to the local Half Price Books?” Maybe I’ll drive over to campus and ask him.


2 Responses to “More adventures in the world of books”

  1. May 1, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    I was sitting in a room of comp sci dudes and I told them about this, and every one of them got really really excited.

  2. 2 abi mcd
    November 15, 2014 at 3:46 am

    “You just don’t get that with Kindle copies of books.” Truth!

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