Buying books for my father is a challenge - almost an insurmountable one. He holds a PhD in optical physics from Harvard, spent his entire career in research at IBM throughout its heyday, directing science and technology development. He has been on every national academy board, engineering or science task force, science advisory panel, held chairs or guest professorships in engineering and physics at MIT, UVA, and UMass - you name it. He has first editions of Einstein’s important published works, which he reads in German, and he spends most family gatherings hovering in the background, when you can tell he really would rather be reading the New York Review of Books from front to back, even though he likes to be with his family. He is the most brilliant person I’ve ever met - and I’ve met Philip Pullman and Salman Rushdie and Marilyn Robinson. What does a bookseller buy a father like that? Well, you can believe me when I say I wouldn’t dare try to buy him anything from the science department. For all I know he advised the author, so I’m just not going there. I’m most likely to go for deep cuts in the history section or something new about the Classics. Last Christmas I bought him the latest translation of the Odyssey, by Emily Wilson. He offered his highest praise, a measured, “verrrrry interesting!” I’m pretty sure I’m too late to get him Ron Chernow’s Grant, but I think I have hit on this spring’s best blend of science and history - The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, by Simon Winchester. I just hope he hasn’t already ordered it from his own local independent bookstore. Let’s hope he’s too busy rereading Einstein to get over there.
- Jennifer Armstrong