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American Connections: The Founding Fathers. Networked. Paperback – July 3, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his latest, columnist and author Burke (Twin Tracks) looks at the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence through his history-as-networking perspective, "an approach I've been using for thirty years... that's recently become known as 'six degrees of separation.' " Spraying historical tidbits like buckshot, Burke looks for the hidden links behind (seemingly) everything; in chapter three, for example, Burke begins with unremarkable signatory William Whipple, considers his part in the Battle of Saratoga, pursues the defeated British general "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne back to his playwriting debut, penned in celebration of the earl of Derby's marriage, for whom a new annual horse race would be named in 1780; from there, Burke is indeed off to the races: the next four pages cover, among other topics, the first strip cartoon, Napoleon's favorite surgeon, the Order of Saint Margaret, the invention of the Geiger counter and the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association which, in 2002, named as its president a man named, yes, William Whipple. The effect is less like connecting the dots than surfing the Web at breakneck speed: an impressively dizzying reading experience with little depth. Readers looking for analysis, or even a sustained narrative, will be disappointed in these overstuffed micro-lessons, but they're perfect for trivia buffs (or those who just wish books were more like the internet).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The latest in Burke's Connections brand (Twin Tracks, 2003) links every signer of the Declaration of Independence with a contemporary namesake. Burke's irreverent, caffeinated prose is again on display as he reduces the pledgers of "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" into pithy summaries of their crasser concerns, such as smuggling. Then off Burke goes in pursuit of their modern counterparts. Perhaps Google easily yielded commoner names such as Roger Sherman, who as of 1996 was a church organist, but where does one find a modern Button Gwinnett, especially since the original, killed in a 1777 duel, left Burke scant leads to trace? Leave it to Burke's encyclopedic mind to meet that challenge, and suffice it to say that entertainer Danny Kaye ties up Burke's Gwinnett problem. Loosely chronological, Burke's matchmaking strings together names from 230 years of literary, scientific, and political history, continually springing the unexpected on the reader, sometimes at the cost of a groan but never at the expense of entertainment. Taylor, Gilbert
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743282264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743282260
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Unfortunately, this book is nothing of the kind.
R. B. Bernstein
Unfortunately, this book is nothing more than a collection of parlor tricks, one that wears thin after 2 or 3 chapters.
R. S. Jacobson
It's a great book to read a story at a time, but, once I started, I couldn't put it down.
Dr. Research

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By R. S. Jacobson on September 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
I have read nearly all of James Burke's work, and his Connections started my fascination with History of all kinds; nowadays, that's all I read. I also became a research historian and have co-authored a book; for that, I offer my unending thanks to Mr. Burke. Unfortunately, this book is nothing more than a collection of parlor tricks, one that wears thin after 2 or 3 chapters. There's no history here nor story telling nor insights; only a compendium of extremely poorly documented linkages connecting the signers of the Declaration of Independence to a current person of the same name. Within each chapter is a set of linkages or connections that typically number above 20, not the six degrees of networking that Burke alludes to. With that many degrees of networking, I could even play this game. All this book does is showcase Burke's knowledge of fairly inconsequential people over the past 200+ years and does nothing to stimulate interest in the reader. This is one book I couldn't bear to read or finish. Mr. Burke should be ashamed to have written it; it simply is not up to his previous standards. There is nothing here...nothing at all; how unfortunate.
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26 of 34 people found the following review helpful By R. B. Bernstein on July 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
I have read several of James Burke's earlier works, and I had hoped that his venture into my own field would illuminate a subject in ways that would not have occurred to conventional historians. Unfortunately, this book is nothing of the kind. On first glance, It is organized in a structure giving one chapter to each Signer of the Declaration of Independence (Mr. Burke seems not to have thought of the framers of the Constitution as belonging in his phrase "founding fathers.") However, each Signer lasts barely one paragraph with Mr. Burke connecting him to someone else, and then to someone else, and then to someone else, and then on and on he goes forming a daisy-chain of references, skittering across the surface of history like a spider sliding across a sheet of ice, until he gets to someone in modern times who shares the same name as that of the Signer [or, in the case of Benjamin Franklin, to a reference back to the original Signer]. The book is slipshod, superficial, and all too often fraught with ominous undocumented claims often introduced or accompanied by such phrases as "Some say" or "according to some." I am sorry that I bought this book; it makes the otherwise-useless book by Richard Brookhiser, WHAT WOULD THE FOUNDERS DO? OUR QUESTIONS, THEIR ANSWERS, read like a marvel of scholarly comprehension.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Riamon on January 5, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
I checked this book out of my local library based on the title and author alone. I expected a book detailing the roles of the various Founding Fathers in the Continental Congress, the Revolution, their connections to one another and various other luminaries of that period in history. This is not what I got.
Instead, Burke attempts to draw a line through history from each individual Founding Father to something or someone today that has the same name, utilising links along the lines of "this person knew another person who knew..." etc. Sometimes these links are tenuous at best, and each individual only gets a few paragraphs devoted to them, at most. After a few of these "connections" you comletely forget who Burke started with.
The historical trivia you get along the way isn't bad, though, as long as you like that sort of thing. It would probably work well as a humorous TV show for the History Channel. But it isn't really a history book. What it would work best as is a "bathroom reader," as long you put a sticky note on the cover informing your guests that it doesn't matter what chapter (or even page) they start on.
I think Burke would have been better served with a different title or tagline: "A humorous search for the Founding Fathers today" might have worked better.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Love the little know history and the subtle connections that helped form our history.
Great trivia for parties!
Really enjoyed it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Research on May 31, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
connections among the Found Fathers, and people still living today. It's a great book to read a story at a time, but, once I started, I couldn't put it down. Mr. Burke's "Connectins" work has changed the way I observe the world, for the better.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Edith Nelson on September 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
James Burke, well known for pursuing the stranger paths of history, has done just that once more. This time, he follows the signers of the Declaration of Independence, following paths leading away from each one to something within the last fifty years sharing that name. If what you want is a straight history book, try a different author. This is Burke's area of expertise, and he has done a wonderful job. Again.
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