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Circles

Circles

Fifty Round Trips Through History Technology Science Culture

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From the bestselling author of The Knowledge Web come fifty mesmerizing journeys into the history of technology, each following a chain of consequential events that ends precisely where it began. Whether exploring electromagnetic fields, the origin of hot chocolate, or DNA fingerprinting, these essays all illustrate the surprisingly circular nature of change.
In "Room with (Half) a View," for instance, Burke muses about the partly obscured railway bridge outside his home on the Thames, a musing which sets off a chain of thought that leads from the bridge's engineer to Samuel Morse, to firearms inventor Sam Colt, and finally to a trombonist named Gustav Holst, who once lived in the very house that blocks Burke's view.
So it goes with Burke's entertaining and informative essays as each one highlights the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated events and innovations. Romantic poetry leads to brandy distillation; tonic water connects through Leibniz to the first explorers to reach the North Pole. This unique collection is sure to stimulate and delight history buffs, technophiles, and anyone else with a healthy intellectual curiosity.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743249768 | 
  • September 2003
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CHAPTER 1: A BIT OF A FLUTTER

I suppose my view of history tends away from the orderly and toward the chaotic, in the sense of that much overused phrase from chaos theory about the movement of a butterfly's wing in China causing storms on the other side of the world. Which is why I decided to have a go at reproducing the butterfly effect on the great web of knowledge across which I travel in these essays.

This thought came to me at the sight of a giant cabbage white in a Lepidoptera exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London, which reminded me of the other great Natural History Museum, the Smithsonian. Which owes its... see more

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