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VINE VOICEon January 15, 2001
James Burke strikes again. The author of such compelling books as Connections, The Day the Universe Changed, the Pinball Effect and the Knowledge Web has come up with yet another catchy title to describe his latest effort. And on no level does he disappoint here, using the metaphor of a circle to begin his journey, describe the improvements and sidebars during the trip, and take us back to almost right where we began.
Tne book is also full of the sort of hooks and traps we have grown to enjoy in his writing over the years. Consider this passage at the beginning of one chapter: "Thanks to mass production and distribution, I can go back to the shop and get a free replacement copy for a cup that I found a flaw in last week. It weas one of those willow-pattern things. Genuine Wedgwood. An ironic term, really, because Wedgwood's original stuff was fake." Just when you think you can get out, he pulls you back in again. And don't think you can skim your way through. The facts in this book are so well interwoven that to skim a sentence may mean losing your place in the chapter.
An excellent book for that rainy day or suuny day in the park, or on the train, or anywhere, for that matter.
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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.
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on December 3, 2000
Will someone please tell Mr. Burke it is ok to right a subpar book every now and then? As with his previous works (Connections, The Day the Universe Changed, etc) Mr. Burke just keeps belting out home runs like Sammy Sosa does in Wrigley Field, and were talking out of the park here. What I especially liked was the Preface where Mr. Burke takes time to briefly tell us of his passion and how he looks at every story. In his typical but never tiring British style Mr. Burke continues to tell us of how seemingly meaningless events or the cousin of someones uncle who knew someone totally and radically changed history, either through invention or thought. Previous fans of his work will consider this a "must read" item, those looking for something to satisfy a few nights of reading will find this indespensible. Highly recommended!
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VINE VOICEon December 1, 2000
Fans of Burke's previous books (such as myself) will find this another fine, idiosyncratic volume of "connections", following the threads of science, technology, and discovery; the uninitiated may find this one, with its smaller and less dramatic scope, less appealing than "Connections" or "The Day the Universe Changed" or even "The Pinball Effect". It's less pedantic than "The Axemaker's Gift", though, and makes for a more leisurely and enjoyable read. Recommended.
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on January 9, 2007
Does anyone write about technological history better than James Burke? In this volume, Burke literally takes the reader in circles as he connects ideas, inventions, and innovations that have changed our world. Whether by purpose or serendipity, some of the critical inventions and discoveries came about in highly entertaining ways. With its brief chapters, this is one of those books that it you can easily pick up and set down, and pick up again days later.
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on April 10, 2004
I've loved most of James Burke's Works, but found this one to no be quite up to the standard of his other works. Still a good read.
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on April 23, 2015
Burke at his usual humorous, witty best, taking us on a magical mystery tour of connections that all start with some simple thing he is doing; watching a shuttle launch on tv, observing a woman looking at a painting in an art gallery, flying on the Concorde, having breakfast; from those simple acts, we are thrust back three, four, or five centuries in time, with all sorts of human relationships to describe, leading us back to the present moment and his own simple breakfast, plane flight, etc.
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on March 13, 2005
If you like Paul Harvey's radio factoids, "The rest of the story", you will like Circles. Burke takes the genre to a different audience, though. I'm reminded of Luis Bunuel's Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie. In 'Circles, curiosities of class, wealth and intellectual frailty get center stage. For example, Chapter 2 of 50 is devoted to musings about a broken porcelain cup. This leads us to Wedgwood, (who the class conscious will know), and Wedgwood reminds Burke of one William Hamilton and his favorite mistress, Emma Lyon. Mr. Hamilton was an 18th century expert on Pompeii and seems to have exchanged his sketches of pots for Ms. Lyon.

As introduced, few will recognize either William or Emma. But, if you know the rest of the story, Emma turns out to be the leading character in several Hollywood moral plays such as 'That Hamilton Woman' (1941), 'Lady Hamilton' (1968), 'Lady Hamilton' (1921), 'The Divine Lady' (1929). Burke finds the Napoleon-Nelson-Hamilton affair a curious nexus of international politics, art and high-culture, then brings us back to his porcelain cup via Coleridge, Samuel Morse, and 19th century railroads.

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on October 11, 2011
Developed serious admiration for Mr. Burke many years ago when I viewed his Connections series live on BBC while living in England.

To my knowledge he does not write revisionist history. He appears to base statements on provable facts.

What Mr. Burke does is take those facts and relates them to people and events which happen in disparate places. He joins the events into a logical sequence of developments resulting in new ideas, inventions or ways of thinking.

So far, I have not finished the book, each chapter seems to stand alone. The chapters do not seem to be in chronological order. I do not think this detracts.

I wish I could write half as well as Mr. Burke. This review might then actually be interesting.

I hated history all through school. Memorizing dates, wars and winner's names was not my "Oh Boy!" I found the book interesting, a bit humorous and find his conclusions fairly believable. I wish I had a teacher like him. I probably would have done better in History.

I enjoyed this book enough that if I find any other books or videos by Mr. Burke which I do not already own, I'll purchase them as well. I am finding this entertaining, light and a bit educational.
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on May 6, 2003
When I read the first chapter of this book, I was amazed at the way that James Burke connected so many different pieces of information, and was able to come full cirlce in his thinking at the end of each chapter. The research that went into the creation of this novel is incredible. There are thousands of fun facts that Burkes somehow found a way to relate to one another. Although the transitions from fact to fact were sometimes confusing, I learned several little tidbits of useful information, ranging from the building of the Suez Canal to the development of the air condintioner. Overall, I thought the book was fun and informative, and contained plenty of fun and wacky facts.
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