The Knowledge Web: From Electronic Agents to Stonehenge and Back -- And Other Journeys Through Knowledge

James Burke, Author Simon & Schuster $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-684-85934-7
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 networks--computers that simulate the human brain's workings--to 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)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-684-85935-4
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