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4.28  ·  Rating details ·  1,739 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
How did the popularity of underwear in the twelfth century lead to the invention of the printing press?

How did the waterwheel evolve into the computer?

How did the arrival of the cannon lead eventually to the development of movies?

In this highly acclaimed and bestselling book, James Burke brilliantly examines the ideas, inventions, and coincidences that have culminated in
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 3rd 2007 by Simon Schuster (first published 1978)
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Nov 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
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
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Michael Larsen
Dec 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ross Blocher
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
David Quinn
Oct 07, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 1970s, dew500s
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.
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Usually, you have to read good fiction to have a book convey so subtly its message using information that is itself disposable. This book will alter the way you look at the world by presenting you many stories you won’t remember in a year.

I first read this book when I was a sophomore in high school, and it was the first time I was aware a book was changing my world view as I read it. Everything to that point had presented technological development with hindsight, as though it was an intentional
Joseph Carrabis
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I pity people who didn't see the original Connections series. It was breathtaking, truly. Burke's ability to demonstrate linkages through time kept me spellbound. The book is a good standalone read and an even better study guide to the series. Whether you have access to the series or not, I still recommend it as a worthy read.
Chris Brimmer
Changed the way I looked at history and made me an amateur historian. Riveting history for people who don't like history.
Andrei Barbu
Love the documentaries. The book reads less like a novel and more like the notes from a TV script.
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
From the digging stick to navigation and power, light, warfare, defense, and communications, connections are not always linear and do not always depend on great inventors acting alone.
Mar 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Steven E Farley
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating journey up and down avenues of human ingenuity and ambition. Often the history of human progress is painted as a current driven by a few geniuses who every so often make large strokes against the canvas, however this book paints the far more accurate and colorful picture of a multitude of tiny discoveries from typically humble beginnings that lead to more tiny discoveries, and the threads weave and interweave until we marvel at the innovation of the tapestry. Though many other book ...more
Feb 02, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Artur Coelho
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Uma coisa é afirmar que isto anda tudo ligado, insinuando os padrões inusitados e as interligações inesperadas que detectamos na nossa herança cultural. Outra é realmente prová-lo, pegando na história da ciência e tecnologia para nos mostrar os caminhos sinuosos e inusitados que nos levaram ao mundo contemporâneo. algo que James Burke sempre fez com enorme mestria, levando-nos em viagens do presente ao passado até ao regresso ao presente, mostrando que caminhos as tecnologias que hoje nos deslum ...more
Oct 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
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
Jul 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Michael Hughes
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthropology
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
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The series was must-match TV back in the day when if you missed it, you missed it. That's probably one of the four stars. It hasn't dated much because he didn't, until the very end, predict the future of innovation, just its history and mechanism. So more current advances are guessed at, they're just missing.
However, an interesting addendum is the four possible responses he predicted back in 1978 to technology taking over our lives, in the final few pages:
1) We will reduce our reliance on techno
Tim Kadlec
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Burke’s Connections TV series is magnificent stuff. I love the way he manages to wrangle disparate topics across science and history to show how much of innovation and advancement is non-linear. The book sets out to do the same thing and does a pretty good job. At times I didn’t quite see how the dots connected, but I definitely enjoyed the ride.

The final chapter, where he summarizes why this all matters, is I think the strongest. He talks about how learning history in a linear fashion (as we ty
Matthew Fagre
Good read if interested in inventions, inventors, and the connections between them. Burke clearly has a mind for this sort of web of coincidences and is good at describing technical advances. Appreciated having a printed version too, as pictures were much more easily readable.

As an avid history reader, the book does fall short in some of its characterizations. He is somewhat facile in his descriptions of historical ages - frequent use of "Dark Ages" complete with misconceptions of stagnation, a
Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

James Burke is a Northern Irish science historian, author and television producer best known for his documentary television series called Connections, focusing on the history of science and technology leavened with a sense of humour.
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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.” 43 likes
“Today, the people who make things change, the people who have that knowledge, are the scientists and the technologists, who are the true driving force of humanity. And before you say what about the Beethovens and the Michelangelos? Let me suggest something with which you may disagree violently: that at best, the products of human emotion, art, philosophy, politics, music, literature, are interpretations of the world, that tell you more about the guy who's talking, than about the world he's talking about. Second hand views of the world, made third hand by your interpretation of them.” 1 likes
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