Cover image for The knowledge web : from electronic agents to Stonehenge and back--and other journeys through knowledge
The knowledge web : from electronic agents to Stonehenge and back--and other journeys through knowledge
Burke, James, 1936-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [1999]

Physical Description:
285 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
T15 .B763 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In "The Knowledge Web," James Burke, the bestselling author and host of television's "Connections" series, takes us on a fascinating tour through the interlocking threads of knowledge running through Western history. Displaying mesmerizing flights of fancy, he shows how seemingly unrelated ideas and innovations bounce off one another, spinning a vast, interactive web on which everything is connected to everything else: "Carmen" leads to the theory of relativity, champagne bottling links to wallpaper design, Joan of Arc connects through vaudeville to Buffalo Bill.

Illustrating his open, connective theme in the form of a journey across the web, Burke breaks down complex concepts, offering information in a manner accessible to anybody -- high school graduates and Ph.D. holders alike. The journey touches more than one hundred interlinked points in the history of knowledge, ultimately ending where it began. Gateways, set at various points in the narrative, allow readers to jump through literary hyperspace to other different but related concepts throughout the book.

At once amusing and instructing, "The Knowledge Web" heightens our

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Burke, familiar to PBS watchers from series like Connections, is back, practicing what he preached in The Axemaker's Gift (1995). The Knowledge Web is Burke's effort to replicate, in linear form, the sort of "webbed" knowledge available to Internet surfers. Its 20 chapters trace often serendipitous developments of particular products or scientific discoveries: the sort of narratives Burke watchers have seen many times. In this book, however, the author makes intersections explicit: a person--say, Cyrus Field or Annie Besant--or idea that appears several times in the book is a "gateway," and each reference is marked with the other places in the book where the same person or idea comes up again. A curious reader who wants to explore the gateway can stop reading about the telegraph and switch to a chapter on warships or instant coffee. With "twenty different journeys across the great web of change" and 142 gateways, Burke offers readers "at least 142 different ways" to read his book. Full of useful information and an interesting experiment in "webbed" knowledge. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Continuing in the vein of The Pinball Effect, his unconventional history of technological change, Burke offers 20 new historical "story lines" that attempt to demonstrate the interactive, often serendipitous connections among ideas, events, people and innovations. His style matches his subject as he skips from one topic to another, moving at the speed of hypertext. The chapter on feedback systems hops from neural networksÄcomputers that simulate the human brain's workingsÄto studies of the physiology of animal emotion, Cyrus Field's pioneering transatlantic telephone cable in 1857 and thence to Napoleon, James Watt, Arts and Crafts movement leader William Morris and Theosophist Annie Besant. Burke always risks being charged with carrying on an intellectual parlor game that trivializes the history of science and invention, of stretching the maxim "everything is interconnected" to the point of meaninglessness. But because his material is intrinsically interesting and because Burke is a superb raconteur, his maverick guide to the byways of Western civilization is entertaining when consumed in small segments. This manic, associative tour of the cultural underpinnings of technological advancement fast, sexy and packed with information; but it's ultimately shapeless and provides little in the way of deeper understanding. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Flights of fancy from a sci-tech expert, e.g., what do Buffalo Bill Cody and the Spanish Inquisition have in common? (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

How to Use This Book
1 Feedback
2 What's in a Name?
3 Drop the Apple
4 An Invisible Object
5 Life Is No Picnic
6 Elementary Stuff
7 A Special Place
8 Fire from the Sky
9 Hit the Water
10 In Touch