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The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible and Other Journeysby James Burke
Synopses & Reviews
For James Burke, knowledge is a vast interconnected web — which means you never know how a new discovery or development or even a chance accident will affect everything else. To prove his point, he takes us on twenty exhilarating, all-new journeys through history's strange byways and little-known shortcuts — from the zigzag path that starts with medieval spicy food and ends with smart bombs to the road that connects bottle caps with Bowie knives. Through these and hundreds of other fascinating examples — further linked by 447 cross-references — Burke proves once again that he has "one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world" (Washington Post).
"A useful supplement to [his] impressive video series, [Connections 2], is [Burke's] new book, The Pinball Effect, which also should have been named Connections,' because each of its 20 chapter titles and their substance is the same as the name and content of each video. Certainly, any teacher who is guiding this series needs to read and convey the book's value to students, as the text provides a valuable supplement to the video messages. In sum, the book and the video series are directly linked by their contents' matching titles to the scientific subjects they present. A developed Burke video or book course in a school, library, business, or home will be an educational journey througha complex web of knowledge that reveals many unforeseen and surprising eventswhich have contributed to existing technology." Jack DeForest, Science Books & Films
"Most historians seek, in G.R. Elton's phrase, 'a connecting chain in the seemingly meaningless sequence of events. . . .' Burke (expanding on his classic 1970s television documentary and book Connections) views history not as a chain but as a complex web of the serendipitous and the seemingly unconnected and inconsequential. The Pinball Effect is a metaphor for this web, deliberately less coherent and less pretentious than Connections. In the past, Burke was criticized for oversimplifying complex interactions to keep his story going, and the same criticism can be made here. . . . The value of Pinball seems proportional to the reader's background knowledge: for the beginner, vignettes tumble past so rapidly that little detail wil be retained; the more experiencedwill find it a useful but often provocative source." G.E. Herrick, Choice
"[The author] seems to revel in the random, unexpected and accidental nature of...connections.... The Pinball Effect ranges over everything from higher philosophy (including a half-page summary of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason) to trivia like ballpoint pens, wigs and 'a machine for boring out water-pump cylinders.' Mr. Burke is generally successful at keeping the reader gawking at these assorted pinballs as he makes them fly through the air. All too often, though, one of them crashes to the ground." Ed Regis, The New York Times Book Review
The Pinball Effect takes the reader on many different journeys through the web of knowledge. Knowledge, it turns out, has many unforeseen and surprising effects. The book, for instance, owes its existence to German jeweler Johannes Gutenberg's getting the date wrong one day in the fifteenth century. James Burke, author and host of the highly rated documentary series Connections 2, draws upon years of research to examine the intrigues and surprises on the journey through knowledge, a trip with all the twists and turns of a detective story. Ultimately, the larger picture that emerges has far-reaching and important implications for the future, revealing why the fundamental mechanism of change is the way things come together and connect. To add to the excitement, The Pinball Effect has been designed to be read interactively: throughout the book, cross-chapter references mimic computer hypertext "hot links" and allow readers to leap from one chapter to another. The result is a fascinating tour through history's most dramatic innovations.
Using 100s of fascinating examples, James Burke shows how old established ideas in science and technology often lead to serendipitous and amazing modern discoveries and innovations.
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History and Social Science » World History » General