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The best-selling author of The Knowledge Web examines the world of technology in a series of essays that originally appeared in his popular Scientific American column, examining everything from hypnotism to electromagnetic fields. 30,000 first printing.
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Unlike Perry Mason, James Burke does not try to assemble watertight (if convoluted) cases. His essays in the history of technology are more like random walks, paeans to serendipity. In The Knowledge Web Burke attempted to duplicate on paper the feeling of inter- and cross-linking trends that you find in history and on the World Wide Web. The essays in Circles are more artificially restricted, topological circles that wrap around. A typical trip goes from the Space Shuttle to Skylab to Werner von Braun to feedback to digestion to lab animals to the Humane Society to sea rescues to charting sea currents to Foucault to astronomical photography to the solar corona to Skylab. Whew!
"There are two reasons why I make such play of the unstructured nature of history, but then, in this book, give it a formal shape," Burke says. "One reason is that otherwise these essays would have mirrored the serendipity I described, just going from anywhere to anywhere.... Choosing to go round in circles, and to end each story where it begins, lets me illustrate perhaps the most intriguing aspect of serendipity at work, which shows itself in the way in which history generates the most extraordinary coincidences." He might have added that trying to guess how Burke proposes to connect all this up makes these tales a game for reader as well as writer, a most educational amusement. --Mary Ellen CurtinAbout the Author:
James Burke's books include the bestselling Connections, The Pinball Effect, The Day the Universe Changed, and The Knowledge Web. He contributes a monthly column to Scientific American and serves as director, writer, and host of the television series Connections 3, which airs on the Learning Channel. He lives in London, England.
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