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Light and fun, but far from his best
on July 21, 2003
I've been a big fan of Burke for many years, and his web theory of history is a fascinating way to look at the past. But that said, I think that Burke may just have explored all the really good paths through the knowledge web already, and is starting to get stuck for connections. 'Connections' and 'The Day The Universe Changed' really give you a sense of cause-and-effect links through history. In the former, we see a natural and logical progression toward modern technologies, and in the latter, toward aspects of modern society. In 'Circles', though, what we have is just a narrative of a series of coincidences. The things he tries to relate aren't really related -- at least not the way he relates them. Whereas in 'Connections', most of the connections were of the form "In solving problem X, they created problem Y", in 'Circles', the connections tend to be less sound: "One of the guys who was working on problem X knew a guy who was working on problem Y." Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of a lot of Burke's later work, and Circles is more reminscent of Connections 3 than of the early work. It is a fun read, and while Burke's supply of historical connections may be running thin, his supply of wit and literary competance hasn't. But if you're looking for something closer to serious history, stick to his older stuff.