January 1, 1978
Connections is a brilliant new examination of the ideas, inventions, and coincidences that have culminated in the major technological achievements of today. The companion volume to the magnificent ten-part television series produced by the BBC and broadcast over the Public Broadcasting System in autumn 1979, it was conceived in the tradition of the highly popular Civilization and The Ascent of Man.
Both as book and television series, Connections masterfully combines popular science and detective work to retrace the steps that lead to eight inventions that ushered in the technological age. The computer, the production line, telecommunications, the airplane, the atomic bomb, plastics, the guided rocket, and television are innovations that permanently altered civilization and man’s relationship to nature.
James Burke, serving as both author and television host, and tangles the pattern of interconnecting events, the accidents of time, circumstance, and place that gave rise to these inventions and to a host of related discoveries along the way. He shows, for example, how attempts to pump water from mines in fifteenth century Europe led to the discovery of air pressure and then to the invention of the barometer – illustrating part of the technological progression that made possible Alexander Graham Bell’s breakthrough in Boston in 1875. The process is bedazzling, and yet its driving force, Burke asserts, is not individual genius but social inventiveness: the creative adaptations and combinations of pre-existing elements, practices, and devices.
“The reason why each event took place where and when it did,” says Burke, “is a fascinating mixture of accident, climatic change, genius, craftsmanship, careful observation, ambition, greed, war, religious belief, deceit, and a hundred other factors.” Historical and humanistic in approach, Connections also explains how technology works, how it affects us, and why technological development is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Burke, a scientific sleuth, unveils an enthralling story, where each turn of events seems as much of a surprise now as it was at the time of discovery. By pointing out how every member of society, not just isolated geniuses, is involved in the process of change, Connections offers an important new view of history and the man-made world.
A graduate of Oxford University, James Burke was the BBC’s chief reporter on the Apollo missions to the moon. In 1972 he began his own weekly television series, “The Burke Special.” Connections has been over two years in the making, and research and filming has taken the author to twenty-three countries. For his television achievements, James Burke was awarded the Royal Television Society Silver Medal in 1973 and the Gold Medal in 1974. He lives in London.