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The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made Carburetor Possible - and Other Journeys [Paperback]

James Burke , Hine
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 1 1997
Using 100s of fascinating examples, James Burke shows how old established ideas in science and technology often lead to serendipitous and amazing modern discoveries and innovations.

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Product Description

From Amazon

Follow the bouncing ball, James Burke-style: spice trading in the Middle Ages leads to the European tea-drinking craze, which helps instigate the development of the science of natural history, which in turns inspires the creation of the coal miner's safety lamp, which is somehow related to the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. From there we go to North Carolina cotton industry, Thomas Edison's very first electric power station, air conditioning, glass manufacturing, and laser beams. The end result? The smart bombs used during the Gulf War. Burke, who wrote Connections (the book and the television show), revels--or better, wallows--in the accidental nature of the march of discovery. Despite a penchant for playing it loose and free with scientific and historical accuracy, Burke has compiled a fascinating look at the great matrix of change and transformation that humans have created for themselves. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Picking up the theme of his bestselling Connections and utilizing cross-chapter margin references that imitate computer hypertext, Burke investigates the dynamic interplay of scientific discovery, technological innovation and social change in a dizzying, mind-expanding adventure that explores the crosscurrents of history. One chapter follows a trail from slavery in America to English Quaker abolitionist Sampson Lloyd's nail-making business to German-American immigrant engineer John Roebling's wire suspension bridges (including the Brooklyn Bridge) to rustproofing with cadmium to nuclear reactors. Accident, luck, greed, ambition and mistakes abound as Scientific American columnist Burke tries to demonstrate the interconnectedness of all things. Another typical chapter unravels the serendipitous interactions among Cyrus Dalkin's invention of carbon paper, Edison's telephone (which used sooty carbon black in the transmitter), the rise of suburbs, X-ray crystallography and DNA. Often as maddening as a pinball game, this nevertheless unique and exciting odyssey may change the way you look at the world. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IT doesn't matter where you begin a journey on the great web of change. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Web of Life Dec 7 2002
Format:Paperback
Everything has a purpose and a lead to another is the basic concept of this text. The Pinball Effect by James Burke, is a very interesting piece. It is incredibly phenomenal how Mr. Burke is able to connect a normal house hold item or a modern idea to a possible invention or idea which is completely irrelevant to end product. The New York Times Book Review says, "The Pinball Effect ranges over everything from higher philosophy.... trivia like ballpoint pens, wigs, and "a machine for boring out water-pump cylinders."" James Burke's masterpiece gives the reader a sense of history and science intertwined with philosophy.
It wasn't until after I read this book, that I was able realize how much my daily life affects those around me. A great example would be if I didn't even write this review. Now if I didn't write this review, you didn't read this review. Thus you wouldn't be sitting at your desktop glaring at the screen. Though my example seems to take a product in just a few days or hours, the example illustrated by Burke are elapsed over hundreds of years.
Within the first few pages Burke has you thinking about your life and the life around you. Right of the bat he illustrates that life is like a spider web. Everything is connected together. He explains that in order to go from point A to point B, one might have to go to point C, point D, and point E just to get to point B.
Though The Pinball Effect sounds reasonable to consider, there are a few things wrong with the idea. Mr. Burke concludes that if these things are intertwined by the pinball effect then everything else is involved also. With this idea he is committing the fallacy of hasty generalization. Burke assumes that everything is connected on the web of life. But how is that proved.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brains or balls? April 8 2002
Format:Paperback
History of technology or history as technology, this book is an entertaining guide through the human adventure of the past few centuries. You may quibble with precise cause and effect connections the author proposes but the overwhelming effect is to drive home one irrefutable message: "We all live on the great dynamic web of change". No other book that I have ever read justifies better the first sentence in its introduction (not even the Tale of Two Cities)
But who has made the next connection, ie that the pinball effect is another manifestation of the Howard Bloom's Global Brain (ISBN: 0471419192)? Once you dispose of the preconception that brains have to be conscious then you can better see that technological development is the learning experience of our collective brain. The balls flying from pin to pin are the interactions of agents in the complex adaptive system that is modern civilisation. Treat the book as fun and you will see connections that you were never aware existed. Treat the book as a guide and you will be lead on a non-linear path through the history of ideas, invention and technology. Treat the book as recipes for invention and you will find there are no rules. Treat the book as mind food and you will realise that the human condition is more interesting and meaningful than any fundamentalist has ever dreamed of... But read it, dip into it, return to it and follow up some of the exciting ideas that may find a new home in the next century.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read. Sept. 2 2001
Format:Paperback
A previous reviewer has pointed out that much of what is described in the book is coincidence. This is true but misses the point entirely. The author does not mean to imply cause and effect; the world is too complex for that. The point is that there are several sets of scattered events that can be joined together; the fascinating thing is that such events and connections exist in the first place. Burke gives examples of such, and does so in such a way that you know he is only sampling from a much larger collection of them.

For example, the following sequence of events comes from the first chapter of the book:

Rowland Hill is best known for introducing the idea of postage stamps. The first printer that the British government hired was an American named Jacob Perkins, who later turned his new printing techniques to the problem of mass producing printed cotton cloth. For this he used a special gum imported from West Africa called Senegal gum. This was made possible by the French who had colonized that part of the world. That in turn was made possible by the 17th century statesman called Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who modernized much of France and in particular its navy. He was responsible for the building of the Canal du Midi that cut a swathe in France from the Atlantic to the Med. One of the engineers who worked on this massive undertaking was Sebastien Vauban, a brilliant inventor who also came up with a new method of siege warfare that was used by French and American troops to defeat the British at Yorktown. The American victory led to a huge number of loyalists fleeing to Nova Scotia. One of them was Abraham Kunders, who saw an opportunity in transporting the other group of refugees sweeping into that part of the world, namely Scots who had been kicked off their lands.
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Format:Paperback
It's fortunate that Mr. Burke possesses such an extraordinary mind, because it means that his meanderings are worth more than twenty of the average persons's painstaking monologues. (It's fun to think of how easily he'd chew Bill Moyers up and spit him out.)
"Pinball" indeed - this work has a breathless, frenetic quality that at times exhausts as much as it enlightens. Still, it's worth the effort - just in the process of reviewing each chapter you realize how many ideas Burke has managed to slip in your mind. For that alone this book's a keeper.
Some of the reviewers don't seem to like this extra challenge, but when you're dealing with difficult topics careful rereading is always necessary. To assume you should be able to get it the first time is to fall prey to a lazy self-indulgence. And as for those particularly witless criticisms of Burke on the Catholic church - someone who's bothered to learn very much history would know that it was those "Defenders of the Faith," the Spanish and Portuguese kings, who originated the slave trade with the Church's approval. The Church later changed its position, but that's irrevelant to Burke's discussion.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Pinball Effect - Fractal Tour Through Inventive History
James Burke's The Pinball Effect is a literary fractal through inventive history. The book seems not to follow any particular pattern, but after finishing the book the reader can... Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2003 by Suzan Forbes
5.0 out of 5 stars Pinball Effect - Fractal Tour Through Inventive History
James Burke's The Pinball Effect is a literary fractal through inventive history. The book seems not to follow any particular pattern, but after finishing the book the reader can... Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2003 by Suzan Forbes
3.0 out of 5 stars Connection does not equal causation!
It's been some time since I read this book, but I was recently reminded of it. I like Burke's pinwheeling (or pinballing, rather) style, jumping from topic to topic and making what... Read more
Published on June 13 2001 by Katherine Bryant
2.0 out of 5 stars Tilt
As little vigniettes this is an interesting book, but the "connections" are tenuous at best. Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2001 by Cynthia Bouchard
2.0 out of 5 stars A theory in search of some facts
I'm a fan of this guy, but I'm afraid this book has kicked around my bedside reading pile for too long and will be consigned to the 'too frustrating' pile. Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2000 by Voracious reader
2.0 out of 5 stars interesting facts but forced connections
The concept of this book fascinated me. Unfortunately, the execution left much to be desired. As another reviewer pointed out, by the time you got to the end of each chapter, you... Read more
Published on Aug. 21 2000 by George Coghill
1.0 out of 5 stars Lost In A Pinball Machine
As much as I enjoyed "Connections", in this later book by James Burke I am both bored out of my skull by his constant meanderings on irrelevant subjects like a pinball... Read more
Published on June 10 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Much better than his connections program.
Of course everyone knows before we start this book that everything is connected in several ways to everything else. Read more
Published on May 24 2000 by bernie
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pinball Effect - another stellar work by Burke
Although, I'm not even finished yet, I know I'll be re-reading this at some time to take advantage of the inspired gateways scattered throughout the text. Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2000 by Ric Schmeelk
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