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Connections Reprint Edition

85 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0743299558
ISBN-10: 0743299558
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Editorial Reviews Review

You can make all the plans you will, plot to make a fortune in the commodities market, speculate on developing trends: all will likely come to naught, for "however carefully you plan for the future, someone else's actions will inevitably modify the way your plans turn out." So writes the English scholar and documentary producer James Burke in his sparkling book Connections, a favorite of historically minded readers ever since its first publication in 1978. Taking a hint from Jacob Bronowski's Ascent of Man, Burke charts the course of technological innovation from ancient times to the present, but always with a subversive eye for things happening in spite of, and not because of, their inventors' intentions. Burke gives careful attention to the role of accident in human history. In his opening pages, for instance, he writes of the invention of uniform coinage, an invention that hinged on some unknown Anatolian prospector's discovering that a fleck of gold rubbed against a piece of schist--a "touchstone"--would leave a mark indicating its quality. Just so, we owe the invention of modern printing to Johann Gutenberg's training as a goldsmith, for his knowledge of the properties of metals enabled him to develop a press whose letterforms would not easily wear down. With Gutenberg's invention, Burke notes, came a massive revolution in the European economy, for, as he writes, "the easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens." Burke's book is a splendid and educational entertainment for our fast-changing time. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"James Burke surely has one of the most intriguing minds in the western world."

-- The Washington Post

"Lively and important."

-- Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (July 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743299558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743299558
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Valjean on July 18, 2004
Format: Audio Cassette
The point of James Burke's Connections is that material inventions and environmental conditions (not ideas) are the driving force behind the way that societal interaction is structured. As such, Burke reopens the centuries-old Marx-Hegel debate about whether or not our world is structured by the ideas of prominent thinkers (ie: Martin Luther) or the invention of certain objects (ie: the deep plow) and other material conditions (ie: the Black Plauge).
While you may or may not agree with Burke, on all levels, he does a great job of supporting his central argument. From the claim that the first cities were formed as the result of the receding ice age to the idea that romance became viewed by society as a "private" thing with the invention of the fireplace, he is consistent in his thinking. And while, the gaping hole in his argument is his failure to acknowledge that it was the *ideas* of certain "gifted" persons (ie: Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers) to put available materials together in a useful way, he still reaffims my conviction that social relations are a function of the material world around us. Bottom line is that we don't structure our world as much as we like to think.
Sadly, I found the lack of illustrations in the abridged audio edition had the overall effect of weakening his argument to some degree. I'm really not big on illustrations in texts, but I think to thoughroughly appreciate James Burke's ideas, you have to "see them". For instance, it's very distracting to try to visualize "Volta's Electric Pile" in your head and keep track of what Burke is talking about. I suppose that's why the Mini-series and the book did so well.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book suffers from comparisons to Burke's PBS series by the same name probably because this is more of a sampler of his perspectives than a comprehensive treatment. Still, it is an absolutely fascinating look at the history of technology and how a break in the smallest link in the chain of technological development might preclude an invention from ever coming forth.
I enjoyed Burke's presentation style, written a bit like a mystery novel, giving us the pieces of the puzzle one at a time leading to the ultimate technology as we know it today. It leaves the reader guessing at each step as to what indispensable modern technology will result.
Burke postulates that major technological advancements are not the result of geniuses slaving away in laboratories, but instead the amalgamation of numerous small inventions, mostly created by average folks trying to adapt to everyday problems. While I accept that premise prior to the 19th century and perhaps in certain cases through to the 20th century, I believe that with few exceptions (like Gates invention of DOS for example), most major technological breakthroughs now result from concerted and organized R&D efforts that result from government grants and the corporate profit motive. The only difference today is that the geniuses are working in their den on a PC, and not in a lab. However, with the sophistication and innovativeness necessary to reach the next level in today's complex scientific fields, such breakthroughs are no longer the within the capabilities of the average person. Though one might point to the proliferation of dot com companies as support of Burke's position, I would argue that these are not average people, but rather the geniuses next door.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Vaughn Meadows on July 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
James Burke stunned PBS viewers with his 10 part series on the

integrating factors of culture,ideas,necessity and science. Integrated by an individual who produced a new, unique 'invention.'and credited as the'Inventor'. The inventions lead directly to todays technologies. Yet each invention, as Burke see's it, was a collaborative effort. The fellow who puts the pieces together becomes the Father Inventor of the 'Whats-It'.

Burke leads us to the realization that a complex of existing knowledge provided the tools for the final product(usually research from dead-end or other little known bits of proven science that had no home.) These extant, yet little known

research conclusions, a single individual integrated and created a unique and important 'invention'.

Burkes book of "Connections" could not possibly sum up the depth and detail that many years of research toward a visual experience provided. I think, at some point he decided his own curiosity with 'the real,hap-hazard evolution of Science' could be found in most people who like a good riddle. He couched every episode in, "what do you think happens next?" after giving us a few seemingly unconnected stories about some unknown

inventors research, that produced something new ..usually not what was expected.

He'd ask us if we could unify these into something different and unique. As the ''Inventor' had.

We all guessed. Sometimes we were right.

He still keeps us guessing.

"Connections" the original PBS science series(the whole set on VHS sold millions) The VHS set cannot be found.

There is not a copy to be purchased. It has vanished from the

Earth. I've used E-Bay and set a price. No replys.

Get the Book: it's not the series but it has Burke's infectious and habituating curiosity; his questioning; and his passion.
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