The Pinball Effect

( 2 )


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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The Pinball Effect (In Russian)

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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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Picking up the theme of his bestselling Connections and utilizing cross-chapter margin references that imitate computer hypertext, Burke investigates the dynamic interplay of scientific discovery, technological innovation and social change in a dizzying, mind-expanding adventure that explores the crosscurrents of history. One chapter follows a trail from slavery in America to English Quaker abolitionist Sampson Lloyd's nail-making business to German-American immigrant engineer John Roebling's wire suspension bridges (including the Brooklyn Bridge) to rustproofing with cadmium to nuclear reactors. Accident, luck, greed, ambition and mistakes abound as Scientific American columnist Burke tries to demonstrate the interconnectedness of all things. Another typical chapter unravels the serendipitous interactions among Cyrus Dalkin's invention of carbon paper, Edison's telephone (which used sooty carbon black in the transmitter), the rise of suburbs, X-ray crystallography and DNA. Often as maddening as a pinball game, this nevertheless unique and exciting odyssey may change the way you look at the world. Photos. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
Another of Burke's (The Axemaker's Gift, 1995, etc.) customary grand tours of the human experience, this time unraveling the serendipitous effects of innovation. We live, Burke asserts, in a "dynamic web of change." It is the very expression of our existence: As we act and are acted upon, the things we create—from thoughts to lawnmowers—have myriad unintended consequences, sometimes way down the road, or in distant lands, with inventions or ideas intermingling in unexpected or obscure but nonetheless influential ways. How have grave-robbing, the safety match, and early copy paper been linked in the great historical flow? Burke draws the connections, not just in straight narrative fashion, but also in cross-references (or "gateways," as he calls them), identifying when the path of one innovation intersects the path of another. These gateways point readers to other sections of the book, jumping forward and back, establishing the connectedness of it all. And it can be good fun, this bopping about the narrative, pinballing between ideas and discoveries, creating the web: discovering how logging denuded Michigan, but also gave rise to the gold rush; how the sinking of the Allied fleet off Balaklava in 1854 influenced the creation of McAdam (later known as macadam) roads in London. Burke's story can also be read in linear mode, start to finish, with equal pleasure, one new wrinkle tripping over another as necessity, intuition, and dumb luck become the mothers of invention: An accident by a Dutch inventor in 1620 helped spawn the New Model Army by way of the female cochineal beetle. Burke's sweep is vast. Kant gets a mulling, as do Freud, the Brothers Grimm, and theVisigoth king Recared; so too do gyroscopes, lighthouses, the permanent wave in a woman's hair. Thoughtful, articulate, titillating. Burke pulls off that neatest of tricks: to amuse and instruct.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316116107
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 6/15/2006
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 340
  • Sales rank: 1,027,574
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The book is an easy fun read, and if nothing else, it entertains and offers a glimpse of how the world fits together and broaden the mind.

    The book, according to the author, has two aims.

    First, it tries some detective story of the pinball way the author claims things happen--trying to make readers aware of the ways, they themselves interact with the world and the ways they are affected by the actions of others.

    Second, it tries to create a new way of thinking about knowledge and how it should be used in the 21st century multimedia, interactive networking, personal communicators, virtual reality, and unlimited bandwidth that are everyday matters.

    The author claims that these technologies will not enhance our lives unless we are not prepared for them. He affirms that the book shows that it is the interaction between data that causes change. The fundamental mechanisms of innovation may consider a new way of defining intelligence: we may measure it by the ability to pinball around through knowledge and make imaginative patterns on the knowledge web.

    The book is an easy fun read, and if nothing else, it entertains and offers a glimpse of how the world fits together and broaden the mind.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2000

    The Pinball Effect - Another Burke masterpiece!

    Although, I'm not even finished yet, I know I'll be re-reading this at some time to take advantage of the inspired gateways scattered throughout the text. I remember watching the original 'Connections' series on PBS years ago, and his work fascinated me even then. This work is easily readable, and makes itself readily available to young and old, the scientifically minded and those just looking for a good read. 'Pinball' is a fun excursion through science, technology, and history! If you don't realize just how connected life is, this book will certainly open your eyes to the web of a world in which we live.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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