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The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible - and Other Journeys Through Knowledge.

James Burke shows us, in an instructive and entertaining way, that knowledge has many unforeseen and surprising effects. The book, for example, owes its existence to a mistake made by German jeweler Johannes Gutenberg in the fifteenth century. The lamp you may be using started life four hundred years ago, thanks to Italian miners whose problems ultimately resulted in the vacuum inside early light bulbs. And, as the subtitle indicates, renaissance water gardens made the carburetor possible.

The author states his book has two principal aims. One is to conjure up the pinball nature of change in order to make the reader aware of the complexity involved in a process-oriented world. The book's other aim is to warn the reader that in the coming information age, when multimedia, interactive networking, personal communicators, virtual reality and unlimited bandwidth will all become everyday matters, we will need to think in different ways about knowledge and how it should be used.

Burke makes his case in twenty chapters which represent twenty different journeys across the "great web of change." As we take our journey we discover that sometimes the simplest act can have vast unintended consequences decades later. On other occasions, the most convulsive events turn out to have banal historical consequences. The author provides so many examples of these points that I found myself a bit overwhelmed at times. This may be his plan because he tells that, given our new technologies, it is less important to "know" the data than to be able to access and relate them one to another. Burke believes someday students may be trained to weave their way through the web of change by imagining their ways to solutions, rather than learning by rote lists of data that will be obsolete before they can use them.

To add interest, The Pinball Effect is designed to be read interactively: throughout the book, cross-chapter references mimic computer hypertext "hot links," and allow readers to leap from one chapter to another. Since there are 447 "links," in one sense, you can read this book in many different ways. In these hectic times does anyone read a book front to back?

Martin H. Levinson, Ph.D.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Institute of General Semantics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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