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4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  1,349 ratings  ·  70 reviews
In this bestselling book, James Burke examines the ideas, inventions, and coincidences that have culminated in the major technological advances of today. He untangles the pattern of interconnecting events, the accidents of time, circumstance, and place that gave rise to major inventions of the world. Says Burke, "My purpose is to acquaint the reader with some of the forces ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 1st 1995 by Little Brown & Co (P) (first published 1978)
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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Science Books - Non-Fiction Only
168th out of 937 books — 2,351 voters
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Disappearing Spoon by Sam KeanGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
History of Science
30th out of 235 books — 180 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 04, 2013 Trevor rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trevor by: Ginnie Jones
The world seems to be infinitely complicated and quite frankly totally beyond the comprehension of any of us. As science progresses one would need to live a dozen lifetimes and would still not be able to understand all of the processes and theories that are used daily to create the world we inhabit.

You might think it is hard to program your DVD Recorder (I almost said VCR, but who has one of those nowadays?) but what if you had to build a television set from scratch? What if you had to go back
This is the only "history" book I am aware of that follows lines of thought through history, rather than an individual person or invention.

This is the proverbial butterfly fluttering its wings in the 12th century, leading to cell phone technology today.

The book can be a bit disconcerting to read, since you can read it in any order you like. This is a unique experience in my book-reading life, and the first time I read this book I read it front to back.

Later I went back and followed particular th
Connections was written as a companion series to a documentary series of the same name. I've heard great things about the show, and since I really enjoyed the book, I'll track it down eventually. Burke's basic arguments here is that history is a continuum, not a series of isolated events. And so the atomic bomb owes its existence, in part, to that marvel of military engineering, the stirrup. It is indeed fascinating to trace the development of things that only seem unrelated and turn out to be o ...more
Benjamin Thomas
I first became a fan of James Burke back in the 70's when I was in high school and was exposed to a few of his "Connections" documentaries on PBS. But then I promptly forgot all about him until last year when I was paging through my Netflix recommendations and realized the entire series was available. My wife and I watched them all and I was so intrigued that I went ahead and bought this book for my library.

I've long been fascinated with history in general, and inventions in particular so I supp
This book is the "companion" to a BBC TV series first broadcast in the '70s or early '80s. I found it interesting enough but intellectually weak. It purports to trace the history of development of various "modern" inventions, such as the jet engine, the computer and television, starting with the invention of agriculture. Where we arrive at the first problem; farming allowed the first division of labour into different, specialised occupations, which in turn, allowed the development of technology. ...more
David Quinn
I’ve been burned twice by reading “How We Got to Now” (by Steven Johnson). First, I just didn’t like that book. Second, it led me to this book (by way of some goodreads reviews) which was even worse.

The book is way too sweeping in its historical retellings and the scientific descriptions are densely mind- numbing. Here’s an example which is representative of much of the book:

“On this new loom the threads were stretched horizontally on a frame. Two horizontal boards above the frame each supported
Michael Larsen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ross Blocher
I wish history textbooks were more like this! James Burke introduces Connections with the story of the 1965 Northeast Blackout. He pauses to consider how reliant we have become on technology and how little of it we understand before launching into a history of invention, from the plow to the modern day (well, 1978). If we expect to truly appreciate the convenience of our inventions, he makes a strong case that we should have some idea of how those inventions work and the physical processes that ...more
James Burke was originally a news reader for the BBC who went on to write a series of very interesting books/TV programmes (heck he is British). I both read and watched the "Connections" and "Connections II" (and there is a third one whose title escapes me) books and shows many years ago.

They are older so the CGI and FX are not what you could see today, but the information and linkages in the material is really very good. Not fiction, but facts and presented in rather unique ways.

I strongly reco
This is a $1.50 used book I picked up at the Library published in1978. The author has a gimmick he uses to trace the development of technology by starting with one invention and moving forward in time through related inventions or people, often ending up in an entirely different area. For example the history of weapons and armies runs from expensive trained horse mounted knights with armies numbered in a few thousands to untrained infantry with firearms numbered in many tens of thousands. The ne ...more
First, I must recommend any television program associated with James Burke, especially Connections 2, which is the reason I checked this book of my library in the first place.

This book, inspired by the original 1970s Connection program, really is like reading a complete history of everything, though its aim is little more narrowed down: how change happens. The kind of changes he details are incredible--political, cultural, technological, scientific. And what is really eye-opening is how all thes
Tim Williams
Based on the truly genius series shown on PBS in the US. I grew up with this and loved it from the initial showing. I still go back and watch it probably once a year as an adult. The book aligns with the first series and is just as great. In regards to the series, the second 'season' was not nearly as good. The third was better but still not quite as good as the first.

If you liked the TV series, the book is more of the same - brilliant.
If you are like me and want to know how something was invented, why it was invented, who invented it, where it came from etc etc etc this is the book for you. It takes you from the very beginning through current technology (I think the 1987's). there is also a PBS series on this which someday I am hoping to watch. Fascinating.
Great links from ancient history to ?odern times. Filled with litte kwon facts. The conections made by the author are his own
But intriging none the less. Certain facts certainly speak for themselves.
Quite appreciated this historical science series, print and tv, and am enjoying Steven Johnson use of the same format with his How We Got to Now.
Definitely re-read material.
US News and World report interviewed some Business School professors on some of the greatest business books. A Dartmouth Professor recommended this book. The premise of the book is that innovations of the past built to innovations today. The author does not take into account dumb luck as much as a market need for innovation. This was a PBS series in the late 1970's. It was written in 1978 and I am told the book is out of print. It is a slow read, with so much detail and pictures. The book Talks ...more
Have you ever considered how one discovery often leads to another? The computer you're reading this review on could not have come about if someone had not discovered how electricity works, another developed the theory, and someone else then found practical ways of using it.

James Burke has given a lot of thought to such interrelations -- many times over, and with a lot more inventiveness than most people. Connections explores how, for instance, a water-wheel grain mill led to punch-card computers
Michael Hughes
Connections is the companion volume to the BBC television series “Connections” produced in the Autumn of 1979. I originaly read connections after watching the BBC series on my local PBS station.

Connections explores an “Alternative View of Change” (the subtitle of the BBC series). Burke thesis us that technology advancement is the result of a web of connections between separate events. Each event is the result of one person or group acting as the result of separate motivations.

Each chapter begi
Connections is an incredibly interesting look at the process of scientific discovery through journeys that connect two seemingly disparate pieces of technology. By using these journeys to demonstrate how accident, epiphany, and circumstances can lead to inventions that change the course of history, James Burke is stating that history does in fact have something to say about the future. He claims that patterns of discovery are tied to qualities of humanity, so that we can look at the circumstance ...more
Dan Mozgai
James Burke is to invention as Carl Sagan is to outer space. Connections tells the remarkable history of dozens of inventions by demonstrating how one discovery, invention or innovation led to another, often seemingly unrelated, innovation. There is also a TV series by the same name that covers the same information as this book, which is worth watching as well.
I have been a fan of James Burke ever since I saw one of his documentaries in a college class some 15 years ago. Mr. Burke has such a fascinating way of detailing history and science. I am sure if history classes were taught like a Burke documentary it would become a very popular subject. This book is pretty much the same story as the documentary of the same name. I love how someone can be innovating something at on place and someone else can be discovering something by accident and then somehow ...more
Sean Kavanagh
before popular science was really a thing, James Burke did this TV series and book - and I loved it as kid - still have my hardback. Good, but perhaps of its era
Chuck Ledger
I read this book years ago. Upon rereading it, I enjoyed it just as much. I wonder what Mr. Burke would add is he redid the book today.
Jul 24, 2013 Yougo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Yougo by: Jeremy Owen
This was perhaps the most fascinating book I've read all year. The author takes you through a most interesting and compelling look at innovation throughout the last thousand years. The author shows how it is often surprising where one innovation will lead, in many cases to a very unrelated discovery or invention. To see the connections between different discoveries and the how they lead to things we have in this modern world and to see how seemingly simple discoveries can radically change the ve ...more
Sep 10, 2014 Brian rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
Easy to read look at how discoveries and accidents have an incredible impact on progress. The adjacent possible is an incredibly powerful force for progress.
I admit that I am of a much more literary, rather than scientific, bent--although I do desire to be more scientific. And there were parts of this book I found pretty boring.

On the whole, however, I really appreciated Burke's approach to history, and the breadth of the subjects he covers. He convincingly lays out an argument for the interrelatedness of inventions important to mankind. I was most interested when he talked about books, fashion, food, and war.

Fairly accessible overall, and certainly
I loved the television series, and thought this would be a chance to get a little more back story and to slowly and meticulously follow the chain of events. That was not to be. The book reads almost exactly like a word for word transcript of the series, except without the music and visual cues that are essential for pulling everything together. Stick with the show; the book really isn't the best medium for these ideas.
DVD Connections 1. Volumes 1-2, The trigger effect. Death in the morning

DVD Connections 1. Volumes 3-4, Distant voices. Faith in numbers / written by James Burke ; produced in association with Time Life Films

Normans used stirrups at Battle of Hastings led to England being English also the spiraling upward of warfare. Who started using horses in the first place?

get this again

I also have the book.
Heather Marks
So great! I can't imagine the kind of research that would go into writing a book like this. He seems to know everything about everything that has made civilization go. From the plough to the atomic bomb, series of connections and discovery that is fascinating. He based his TV miniseries "Connections" on the chapters of this book, so if you are more visual, that is just as good!
Kyle Wild
Sep 20, 2008 Kyle Wild rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people into the history of science and innovation
Just an incredible way to communicate history...

Burke works through generations of humans, working ever forward through time along a chain of connected inventions and coincidences, until he reaches a modern super-invention. Each of the eight arguments is compelling, surprising, well-supported, and masterfully narrated.

TV People: Watch the entire BBC series!!
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“Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.” 19 likes
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