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The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made Carburetor Possible

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About the Author

     James Burke is an author and a TV host known for his undeniably humorous process of presenting the different progressive advancements of the human society. His past writings talked about the different procedures by which human society and its ingenuity actually managed to produce different inventions as well as discoveries in the different fields of human interest including science and technology as well as the different developments in engineering and other building procedures.

     In his book, the Pinball Effect, he strongly points out how a particular opinion as well as act of a certain person affects the society as a whole. It could not be denied that even from the minds of the most common people who are plainly curious about the systems that control the human society, different developmental breakthroughs arise. This bouncing effect shall then be discussed within this report, as to how James Burke intended to show the difference of the human society before with regards the situation that it has to deal with now, especially in connection with engineering based developments.

Important Issues on the Book

     The main thesis of Burke’s claims in his book The Pinball Effect particularly focuses on the process by which people from all over the world affect each other because of the inventions that they produce that actually brings the entire human community in certain advancements. He even points out that people are living within a web-like community that mainly portrays the impact of the different acts of others in a certain area towards the people living in another distant place. Within the first fourteen pages of the said book, Burke has been able to talk about the different procedures by which one opinion led to a discovery and a discovery lead into an invention that promised a better start for the human community at present.

     The universe, according to him, is something that explains the unknowingly direct way by which people are interconnected with each other. Most of the time, people lack the ample knowledge and understanding that they need to have to be able to see how much impact they are making in the society which in turn makes them less aware of the fact that they are indeed able to contribute to the advancement of the human society. Burke particularly mentions of the capability of a person, a certain individual, to make huge changes in the ways by which people are living their lives in the society today.

     Through the presentation of different historical breakthroughs on development and system advancements within the human community, Burke was able to outline the different ways by which the past inventors and discoverers were able to connect themselves together in pursuit of creating a more developed society that could primarily withstand the challenges of modern living.

Chapter Reviews and Summaries

     There are twenty chapters making up this particular reading material. Within the said chapters, Burke tried to consistently introduce the ways by which humans were able to come up with the possible procedures that they needed to undergo to be able to create possible changes in the society. Although some of the innovations were particularly made possible through accidental discoveries, it could not be denied that those discoveries such as electricity itself actually made a great difference in the life of the human community from then until now.

     Through the first chapters [from chapter 1 towards chapter 9], James Burke made it clear that human innovation and change has primarily rooted out from the instinct of being curious and interested of people in doing something different from the usual. The ability of man to withstand as well as to comprehend and apprehend himself with this particular need of satisfying his curiosity, he was able to recreate the refurbish the things that are already existent in the society and better yet, he was able to make new things out of new discoveries. This is the primary outline of the reason behind man’s success in making the changes in the society possible of existing.

     Through the second half of the 21 chapters [from chapters 10 to 15], it could be understood that man never settles down and sit to be simply contented on what he has already done. He particularly intends to see what is it there that could still be improved, that could still be changed for the sake development? These questions continuously support the human endeavor of creating changes in his community, not only for his own good but for the good of the majority as well. Within the said chapters, Burke has been able to make it clear that the human innovations particularly came from their discontentment of the things that they already possess.

Their want of something better out of life, made it possible for them to produce breakthrough developments in technology, namely, the computer systems; in communication, which includes the advancement brought about by the Internet connections; in the field of engineering, the development of different procedures in making the buildings more receptive of the impact of natural disasters as well as man-made causes of building failures [such as the 9/11 terrorism]. This fact, according to Burke is a proof of human ingenuity and intelligence in coming up with possible ways to satisfy his own need of being supported by the different developments in his own life.

     The last parts of the book, which includes chapter 16 towards chapter 21, make a clarification on the different flaws that human innovations particularly have and how they were all given attention to by several curious human inventors themselves. Thus making great changes and seeing how the flaws could be turned into assets for the said developmental agents of progress in the human society. This part of the book indicates the capability of humans to understand what they have done wrong with the inventions that they have committed themselves into, thus making them also capable of rearranging and amending the flaws that they may have created upon the innovations that they have already posted for the society’s use.

Engineering Concepts Featured in the Book

     In this reading, it has been clearly pointed out by the author that the human want for change have resulted to different revolutionary factors that created possibilities for the society’s progress towards modernization. This particular concept is the ideal factor that is noted in the field of engineering which outlines the fact that engineer s never cease in finding ways to develop their own ways of dealing with the problems of building and constructing different infrastructures.

The book of Burke shows how the different historical accounts of the human society primarily affected the processes by which engineers built different infrastructures within the human community through the years. The effect of the said events, both natural and man-made, created ways by which engineers have developed studies in seeing what the flaws may have been in the past building procedures that they have applied in their past projects.

     The continuous search for the betterment of the said field primarily resulted to the improvements seen in buildings and different community infrastructures today. It could not be denied that the said advancements paved way for the development of major procedures in making the buildings more receptive in facing calamitous occurrences as well as facing different man-made destruction that may be implied upon the said infrastructures. The development continues.

The field of engineering certainly does not rest and stop from thinking of the possible ways by which they could improve their abilities and their procedures in facing the growing demand for more stabilized buildings and infrastructures. The developing society of humans certainly demand for better service and progress from this particular field, hence, making it possible for them[the engineers] to produce practical ways in answering the said challenges.

Personal Reflection from the Text    

     The entire context of the book of Burke shows how the actions of people around the world affect the entire human society as a whole. No matter how small the act of change maybe, it is still considered as an agent of progress that leads to a more advanced society. Deriving the idea from the fact that humans learn from the past, this reading shows how much impact human history has made upon the different systems of living in the human society. Science and Technology, communications, Engineering and other more fields of human endeavor have actually been involved in the process of changing and developing their ways in facing the different growing challenges that the human society posts them with.

     It could be learned from this reading that advancement could also result form failures of the past acts and applications of human innovations. The capability of humans to see the flaws of what they have particularly implied in the society makes it easier for them to re-develop the things that they have already made. The indestructible wanting of humans in achieving the best out of what they make, certainly proves the capability of the human society in satisfying their own need of experiencing change and development.

     With a focus on the field of engineering, it could be noted that through the years of experience, the application of engineering procedures has been directly affected by the different occurrences in the human society. The demands that are posted by the historical events that made an impact on the process of building infrastructures and other prominent buildings in the human society have actually created change upon the said field of human endeavor.

     The changes were indeed excellent, giving humans a sense of a higher level of security upon entering and utilizing the different built infrastructures in the different human communities. James Burke particularly pointed out that humans should never forget that these developments could not have happened if the past occurrences in the human history never came into existence. Again, he has proven that the acts of humans all around the globe affects others interest as well as profession in a direct impact.

Overall Reaction of the Book

     The writing approach of Burke in particularly presenting the data in a much humorous yet informative way, have made this reading material an enjoyable read although it is filled with the different interests of humans that are intertwined together to make the progressive impact within the human society. James Burke’s expertise in presenting such topics of change and development have certainly equipped him in being effective in assisting the readers see the difference of the ways by which humans try to commit changes as well as imply development in their own communities. The different fields of human endeavor has then been given a great focus on how they all flourished from simply being affected by the pinball interaction of events within the human global community.


James Burke. (2002). The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made Carburetor Possible – and Other Journeys. Back Bay Books.

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