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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Delights of Reading James Burke
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,...
Published on January 15, 2001 by Parker Benchley

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Light and fun, but far from his best
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...
Published on July 21, 2003


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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Delights of Reading James Burke, January 15, 2001
By 
Parker Benchley "Edward Garea" (Branchville, New Jersey United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Light and fun, but far from his best, July 21, 2003
By A Customer
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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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Like Sammy Sosa, Burke Just Keeps Hitting Homeruns!, 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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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of the same, but that's good!, 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Classic, 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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as Good as previous works, April 10, 2004
This review is from: Circles: Fifty Round Trips Through History Technology Science Culture (Paperback)
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining history, March 13, 2005
By 
Mark Mills (Glen Rose, TX USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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.

Enjoy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Wacky Connections, May 6, 2003
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Circuluar reasoning, December 8, 2006
I teach a course in the History of Technology at my local community college, and use James Burke's book `Circles' as an interesting and engaging means of showing the connections different ideas of technology have to each other, and to history, often in most unexpected ways. This book has fifty short circular stories, trips through science and technology, each of which introduces connections that are fascinating, sometimes bewildering. How do wigs and fruit preservation technologies relate to each other. Why would one ever think that bologna and Gothic revival architecture are related? How is it that the Star-Spangled Banner is related to a calendar revision so complex that even Burke claims not to understand it?

Burke presents his tales in short order - they can each be devoured as a bite-sized morsel in one sitting, and yet, to do so and move on quickly is to miss the depths of what is there - as these circular connections show, there is always more than meets the eye. My students upon reading are often intrigued enough to go on the internet or visit the library to investigate further. Burke introduces history almost on the sly - readers often think they are reading a story, not history. Well, they are reading stories, cleverly developed, with a good deal of wit and subtlety. One doesn't necessarily need to know all the dates and places, but the span of the connections helps to prove that long before the era and phenomenon of globalisation, we were already interconnected and learning from each other.

The essays here originally appeared as columns in the journal Scientific American - hence, each chapter is the length of a magazine article for good reason, and the near-uniformity of the length of each is no accident. These are written for people with an interest in science and technology without being experts in science or technology, but they aren't written in a dumbed-down version either. Regardless of whether or not you can program your VCR or you can program the Shuttle to rendevous with the Hubble Telescope, this book is for you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Hasty Effort, April 4, 2009
By 
This review is from: Circles: Fifty Round Trips Through History Technology Science Culture (Paperback)
I am a James Burke fan from way back. I think his series "Connections" was a masterpiece. However, this book is a long way from a complete work. Other reviewers have dealt with the increasingly tenuous way he connects the dots and the masses of reworked Connections material, so I won't discuss that.

What I found most annoying was the hyper-chatty method of writing, as if he were just transcribing an oral presentation. The trouble with writing the same way you speak is that the written word doesn't preserve any of the rhythmic and tonal punctuation that allows listeners to parse it into a coherent message. I found many parts of the book garbled until I couldn't tell what he was trying to convey. If I had not seen Connections and not remembered his voice and style of speaking, I would have understood even less.

I know that professionally produced books have an editor between the author and the page, so I don't know whether to blame the editor for not being more forceful or blame the author for overriding the editor. But somebody messed up.
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Circles: Fifty Round Trips Through History Technology Science Culture
Circles: Fifty Round Trips Through History Technology Science Culture by James Burke (Paperback - September 8, 2003)
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