Thursday, June 7, 2018

Book Review: 'The Perfectionist' by Larry Kilham

New Mexico author Larry Kilham received a B.S. in engineering from the University of Colorado, an M.S. in management from MIT, worked large international companies and founded three high-tech companies and gained three patents to his credit involving innovative use of computers and researching artificial intelligence. He has published eight books about creativity and invention, artificial intelligence and digital media, travel overseas, and three novels with an AI theme. He is also a corporate consultant, a member of the American Chemical Society, and is keenly interested in automation, ecology, global resources and the science of complexity.

Larry’s impressive credentials make him not only an important voice in ruminating about science but also about nature’s bounty. In this memoir he shares his father Peter Kilham’s life long passion about birds and his commitment to the concept that nature is the greatest creator, that finding genius in others depends on their revealing nature’s beauty. ‘He also believed in natural beauty and harmony. Enjoying nature as it is.’

Larry opens this testament to his father genius with the following ‘It was a short walk from his kitchen to his combination shop and office. Along the way, we passed a large spreading tree from which hung a variety of bird feeders. It was getting dark and my father wanted to show me something in his inventor’s hideaway. I took a stool in an area surrounded by machinery, models of bird feeders, record jackets, office files, and an old typewriter. He lit his ever-present corncob pipe and looked at me for a while with his still sparkling eyes. This eighty-five-year-old man picked through the files in the drawer. He found the file labeled “Annual Report.” My father looked at it and then with searching eyes looked at me. He appeared to be looking for approval, which was quite often. Did he want me to comment on his company’s financial statements? Did he want to discuss family matters and possible disposition of the business? I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. The reports were just sheets of paper with numbers on them being shown by a great inventor. But he didn’t refer to his inventions, models, or artwork. We fell silent and then slowly left for the kitchen and dinner. Over the years, this scene has haunted me. The same questions have kept plaguing me: What was his purpose? Did he want me to take over the business? Was he disappointed in the way his life turned out? Did he think the financial statements were all that I, a business school graduate and corporate manager, could understand? Now the answer comes. The financial figures were the distillation of truth. It had taken half a lifetime, but the world, at last, had come to accept his creations and was willing to pay for them. Not only had he created useful and beautiful things of lasting worth, but they were highly valued in the marketplace. He was proud and wanted to share with me his achievement. Unknown to me, he knew this conversation in 1991 would be about our last. He was finishing his life’s work at his beloved 1812 farmhouse in rural Rhode Island. He was saying, “Be guided by purpose, truth, and perfection and the rewards will come.” Since then, I have often thought back and tried to piece together his story and our story. His was a long journey fueled by purpose and happiness whose lessons are even more relevant today.’

In a book as filled with photographs and illustrations as with reflective words, Larry Kilham has once again discovered an avenue to enlighten his readers to be sensitive to nature, the act of creativity, the journey to discovery. It is rare that a novel of this importance arises from a scientist’s mind, but here is that rara avis. Read, be captured by the story and learn the possibilities of creative response and where we find it. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, June 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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