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Connections [Paperback]

James Burke
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 3 2007 0743299558 978-0743299558 1
  • How did the popularity of underwear in the twelfth century lead to the invention of the printing press?
  • How did the waterwheel evolve into the computer?
  • How did the arrival of the cannon lead eventually to the development of movies?

In this highly acclaimed and bestselling book, James Burke brilliantly examines the ideas, inventions, and coincidences that have culminated in the major technological advances of today. With dazzling insight, he untangles the pattern of interconnecting events: the accidents of time, circumstance, and place that gave rise to the major inventions of the world.

Says Burke, "My purpose is to acquaint the reader with some of the forces that have caused change in the past, looking in particular at eight innovations -- the computer, the production line, telecommunications, the airplane, the atomic bomb, plastics, the guided rocket, and television -- which may be most influential in structuring our own futures....Each one of these is part of a family of similar devices, and is the result of a sequence of closely connected events extending from the ancient world until the present day. Each has enormous potential for humankind's benefit -- or destruction."

Based on a popular TV documentary series, Connections is a fascinating scientific detective story of the inventions that changed history -- and the surprising links that connect them.

Frequently Bought Together

Connections + Circles: Fifty Round Trips Through History Technology Science Culture
Price For Both: CDN$ 34.67

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You can make all the plans you will, plot to make a fortune in the commodities market, speculate on developing trends: all will likely come to naught, for "however carefully you plan for the future, someone else's actions will inevitably modify the way your plans turn out." So writes the English scholar and documentary producer James Burke in his sparkling book Connections, a favorite of historically minded readers ever since its first publication in 1978. Taking a hint from Jacob Bronowski's Ascent of Man, Burke charts the course of technological innovation from ancient times to the present, but always with a subversive eye for things happening in spite of, and not because of, their inventors' intentions. Burke gives careful attention to the role of accident in human history. In his opening pages, for instance, he writes of the invention of uniform coinage, an invention that hinged on some unknown Anatolian prospector's discovering that a fleck of gold rubbed against a piece of schist--a "touchstone"--would leave a mark indicating its quality. Just so, we owe the invention of modern printing to Johann Gutenberg's training as a goldsmith, for his knowledge of the properties of metals enabled him to develop a press whose letterforms would not easily wear down. With Gutenberg's invention, Burke notes, came a massive revolution in the European economy, for, as he writes, "the easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens." Burke's book is a splendid and educational entertainment for our fast-changing time. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"James Burke surely has one of the most intriguing minds in the western world."

-- The Washington Post

"Lively and important."

-- Library Journal

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars informative but too dense March 24 2001
By Eric B.
Format:Audio Cassette
As a teacher, I am always in search of ways to make academics relevant to the real world. Student engagement is always increased when the lesson reminds them of something familiar. I was eager to read Connections in order to teach me about how to make history connect to everyday life. In Connections, James Burke attempts to demonstrate three phenomena: seemingly inconsequential events can lead to major innovations, inventions lead to new discoveries, and technological advancements have had profound effects throughout history on people and society. While Burke does make a valiant effort to make these "connections" between the discoveries of everyday people and/or scientists with inventions such as the loom, printing press, coinage, clock, etc., he spends more time discussing the nature of the inventions themselves, rather than the connections between them. I would have liked more commentary on the coincidences and circumstances of the discoveries and less information about how the invention works and functions. Burke was very successful at illustrating the broad impacts of numerous technologies throughout history. The inventions which he describes such as the plow and compass had fascinating impacts on the way society developed. I believe that these connections would be very interesting to my students by demonstrating how history effects our lives. My primary criticism of this book lies in Burke's style and scope. His writing is incredibly dense with numerous names, dates, and specifics. The information is overwhelming and not clearly focused. The chapters seem poorly organized and without a defined, recognizable theme. More explanation and commentary by Burke himself rather than dry, dense information would have been useful. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars A materialist view of history needs illustrations July 18 2004
By Valjean
Format:Audio Cassette
The point of James Burke's Connections is that material inventions and environmental conditions (not ideas) are the driving force behind the way that societal interaction is structured. As such, Burke reopens the centuries-old Marx-Hegel debate about whether or not our world is structured by the ideas of prominent thinkers (ie: Martin Luther) or the invention of certain objects (ie: the deep plow) and other material conditions (ie: the Black Plauge).
While you may or may not agree with Burke, on all levels, he does a great job of supporting his central argument. From the claim that the first cities were formed as the result of the receding ice age to the idea that romance became viewed by society as a "private" thing with the invention of the fireplace, he is consistent in his thinking. And while, the gaping hole in his argument is his failure to acknowledge that it was the *ideas* of certain "gifted" persons (ie: Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers) to put available materials together in a useful way, he still reaffims my conviction that social relations are a function of the material world around us. Bottom line is that we don't structure our world as much as we like to think.
Sadly, I found the lack of illustrations in the abridged audio edition had the overall effect of weakening his argument to some degree. I'm really not big on illustrations in texts, but I think to thoughroughly appreciate James Burke's ideas, you have to "see them". For instance, it's very distracting to try to visualize "Volta's Electric Pile" in your head and keep track of what Burke is talking about. I suppose that's why the Mini-series and the book did so well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Overstates Remote Connections July 26 2001
Format:Audio Cassette
I have to say that I like the premise behind the book: seemingly random events leading up to a coherent pattern of invention and innovation. I also appreciate all the implications this has for long-term conscious planning by governments and individuals. However, I think that Burke understates the role of great geniuses in scientific and technological history. Not everything we have is primarily due to remote connections. I think that "The Day the Universe Changed" is a better written and more interesting book. This one, however, is also worth reading.
The first part of the book about interconnectedness and mutual dependence for survival in the modern industrial society should be required reading for all types of back-to-nature, anti-technology, sustainable-development eco feminists. It shows that we are not at liberty to simply adopt a Rousseau-esque, crab-like movement back into "natural," pre-industrial world. So for this reason alone, the book is worth the price you pay for it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great story about history's connections ... July 16 1999
Format:Audio Cassette
July 16, 1999
I first became aware of James Burke work through the Discovery/TLC channels and when I stumbled across his audio novel Connections I had to try it out.
Well the quality of James Burke's work set the stage for what was to become a new age in bedtime stories. My new born son then 3 months was quickly introduced to the art of the audio novel as his bedtime stories.
Its been well over a year now and the little guy has now turned 18 months old. The very creative story of Connections still gets a replay every few months and he enjoys it every time.
The only sad part about the James Burke audio novels is that I haven't seen a new one in a very long time.
I highly recommend this creative story about historyn and the connections which brought us to where we are!
Arnold D Veness
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