ALPHABETICAL BRAIN™ VOCABULARY
OF SECULAR SCIENCE STARS
March 30, 2021
The unexpected origins
of the modern world
by James Burke.
Simon & Schuster, 2003 (276 pages)
Quote = "Reductionism and the division of labor have given us the highest standard of living in history. They have also brought socially unsustainable rates of innovation and population growth, and the kind of specialist thinking that makes it difficult to see beyond the end of your graduate degree. As a result, commercial-secrecy-shrouded research labs, working on everything from new pesticides to smart bombs, launch their latest successes onto an unsuspecting market, and when these new products bump into other equally unexpected novelties (because of the way the world is networked) the result often causes unforeseen ripple impacts." (1)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, SUMMARY,
Quote = "Everything is connected. As you read these words, somewhere someone you have never heard of is doing something that will sooner or later bring change to your life. And sometime in the course of the next 24 hours you will do the same to others. None of us is untouched by the swirl and eddy of serendipity that drives human endeavors at all levels, from quantum chromodynamics to painting your house. In the past, the ripples took longer to spread because we were few and communication was slow. But the process was essentially the same as it is today." (1-2)
Quote = "Until recently, reductionism discouraged the cross-disciplinary, connective view of events because we lacked the means to gather and cross-refer the very large amount of data that would have made such an approach feasible. So we tended to organize history as we organized knowledge: in specialist terms, boxed into separate, straight-line, thematic structures. And yet the most cursory examination reveals this is not the way things happen." (2)
Quote = "The more we recognize that we are all linked by encounter, from one end of the planet to the other, the better. The reason I have straitjacketed the serendipity into 25 tales, each with a common beginning and a common end but different middles, is because there are intricate and fascinating patterns to be made out of the chaos of history. I like the look of this particular pattern. I hope you do, too." (2)
"Heading confidently for Japan, Columbus unexpectedly bumped into America, and Western knowledge went down the tubes." (1)
"What was the New World doing there, when it did not figure in the Bible or Aristotle? Not to mention its thousands of never-before-seen plants and animals. Intellectual panic followed. If the classical authorities were wrong about something as big as this, whose word could you trust any more?" (1)
"A hundred years of global exploration later, the problem had grown too big to ignore, so in 1619 Rene Descartes came up with a way to verify data through methodical doubt and reductionism: Question everything, and get down to detail; reduce all problems to their basic components; learn more and more about less and less." (1)
"Descartes’s approach generated the first specialist scientific research, which, in turn, triggered the Industrial Revolution and, with it, Adam Smith’s idea that output was increased if the different stages of production were divided among different workers." (1)
"Reductionism and the division of labor have given us the highest standard of living in history. They have also brought socially unsustainable rates of innovation and population growth, and the kind of specialist thinking that makes it difficult to see beyond the end of your Ph.D. As a result, commercial-secrecy-shrouded research labs, working on everything from new pesticides to smart bombs, launch their latest successes onto an unsuspecting market, and when these new products bump into other equally unexpected novelties (because of the way the world is networked) the result often causes unforeseen ripple impacts. For instance, Edison’s electric light threatened the gaslight business, which was then given a temporary reprieve through the invention of the incandescent gas mantle by Auer von Welsbach, whose mantle research also revealed the existence of the rare earth neodymium, later available to dope the crystal for the first laser (itself fundamentally based on the electronic behavior of one of Edison’s light bulbs)." (1)
"Everything is connected. As you read these words, somewhere someone you have never heard of is doing something that will sooner or later bring change to your life. And sometime in the course of the next 24 hours you will do the same to others. None of us is untouched by the swirl and eddy of serendipity that drives human endeavors at all levels, from quantum chromodynamics to painting your house. In the past, the ripples took longer to spread because we were few and communication was slow. But the process was essentially the same as it is today. No decision, or course of action, escapes the effect of chance. For example, at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, if the English instead of the French had used the new stirrup to field mounted shock troops, and thus were victorious, this book would have been written in a form of English unaffected by the post-Hastings French invasion of England." (1-2)
"Until recently, reductionism discouraged the cross-disciplinary, connective view of events because we lacked the means to gather and cross-refer the very large amount of data that would have made such an approach feasible. So we tended to organize history as we organized knowledge: in specialist terms, boxed into separate, straight-line, thematic structures. And yet the most cursory examination reveals this is not the way things happen. For instance, as this book shows, the emergence of stealth aircraft came not so much from earlier work in the field of aeronautics as from crystal-diffraction studies and audio recording tape technology. Above all, like everything, stealth technology was the end product of a series of human encounters, each one as accidental as the last." (2)
"The point of looking at history like this rather than in the traditional way (in terms of themes, or Great Moments, or leaders-who-showed-the-way) is because it offers a post-reductionist systems approach to the turbulent modern world in terms of the whole rather than the parts. And because the more we recognize that we are all linked by encounter, from one end of the planet to the other, the better. The reason I have straitjacketed the serendipity into 25 tales, each with a common beginning and a common end but different middles, is because there are intricate and fascinating patterns to be made out of the chaos of history. I like the look of this particular pattern. I hope you do, too." (2)
HOW TO READ THIS BOOK by the author, James Burke (3)
 Each chapter opens with a paragraph on the trigger event that kicks off the twin—track storylines.
 Track One then runs, on successive left-hand pages, until: "End Track One.” At this point, do not turn the pages to see the chapter ending unless you are one of those people who likes to go to the back of the book and see who did the crime before you start the thriller.
 Return to the beginning of the chapter and this time read Track Two, which runs only on the right-hand pages, until: “End Track Two.” Read the chapter ending.
 Repeat as required, or until the onset of sleep!
1) 1804: ATTACK ON TRIPOLI TO FISH STICKS (5-14)
2) 1760: FAKE EPIC TO ORGAN TRANSPLANTS (15-24)
3) 1805: BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR TO LASER (25-34)
4) 1726: ENCYCLOPEDIA TO VITAMINS (35-44)
5) 1792: JUNIPER HALL TO JET AIRCRAFT (45-54)
6) 1750: SMALLPOX TO BIG BANG (55-64)
7) 1784: SANSKRIT TO CYBERNETICS (65-74)
8) 1610: SANTA CATHARINA TO SPECTROSCOPY (75-84)
9) 1686: POLITICAL JINGLE TO NYLON (85-94)
10) 1703: KIT-KAT CLUB TO SUNGLASSES (95-104)
11) 1770: FALKLANDS WAR TO TELEVISION (105-114)
12) 1724: STONE AGE BOY TO PHOTOCOPIER (115-124)
1) 3 1745: LEYDEN JAR TO CLINGWRAP (125-134)
14) 1790: PHILADELPHIA GENERAL ADVERTISER TO CHEMOTHERAPY (135-144)
15) 1664: LENS GRINDER TO HAIRDRESSING (145-154)
16) 1773: BOSTON TEA PARTY TO CONTACT LENSES (155-164)
17) 1742: BOW STREET, LONDON, TO BAR CODE (165-174)
18) 1739: THE GRAND TOUR TO LIQUID CRYSTAL DISPLAY (175-184)
19) 1795: MAN IN THE IRON MASK TO HOVERCRAFT (185-194)
20) 1673: SIEGE OF MAASTRICHT TO VENDING MACHINES (195-204)
21) 1786: THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO TO STEALTH FIGHTER (205-214)
22) 1780: EDINBURGH OYSTER CLUB TO DNA (215-224)
23) 1770: CHURCH SERMON TO HELICOPTER (225-234)
24) 1771: POTTERY TO NEON SIGNS (235-244)
25) 1676: THEOLOGY TO SKYSCRAPER (245-254)
ILLUSTRATION CREDITS (unpaged after 276)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (unpaged at end)
AND BOOK DESCRIPTION
ABOUT THE AUTHOR = James Burke is the author of several bestselling books, including Circles, American Connections, and The Knowledge Web. He is a monthly columnist at Scientific American and also serves as director, writer, and host of the television series Connections 3 on The Learning Channel. He is the founder of the James Burke Institute for Innovation in Education, whose flagship project, the Knowledge Web, an interactive website, was recently launched. He lives in London.
SUMMARY = Considers the nature of change, the qualities of the divine, and the origins of contemporary civilization, citing how divergent paths stemming from specific historical events subsequently converged in the modern world.
BOOK DESCRIPTION = One of the most intriguing minds in the Western World (The Washington Post) delivers a landmark book of real-world stories that contends with the nature of change and divines as never before the unlikely origins of many aspects of contemporary life.
EDITORIAL BOOK REVIEWS
PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY REVIEW = Burke is back with another volume of the surprising and frequently serendipitous connections among the seemingly unconnected people, events and discoveries that have shaped our modern world. His work, which by this point comprises a genre in itself (including such titles as The Knowledge Web and The Pinball Effect), meanders through the history of science, medicine and technology, playing an intellectual history version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. His motto: "Everything is connected." As in earlier books, Burke tweaks the form a bit, this time offering 25 pairs of parallel narratives; each pair starts with one "trigger event," then they diverge and reconverge at the end (hence the book's title). Want to know how the Boston Tea Party led to the development of contact lenses, or The Marriage of Figaro to the F-117A stealth fighter? Burke can tell you, following two simultaneous threads that careen off in wildly different directions from the "trigger event," then create the conditions for the end result. One could complain that his connections are sometimes tenuous at best, more synchronicity than cause-and-effect, but that would miss the point-the real fun is in Burke's dry wit and his sheer exuberance as he takes us through centuries of history in mere pages, only to pick a new starting point and do it all over again. Forecast: London-based Burke has a devoted following, and his books are always well received, as this should be.
BOOKLIST REVIEW = Burke's book requires physical effort from the reader, and this inventive impresario of science history warns that peeking ahead spoils the fun. But later about that: first, the substance here is Burke's forte, showing the connections that come together in a particular technology. One reason for Burke's popularity is his irreverent snarkiness, for the characters in these two-dozen stories are invariably nerds and freaks. Plus, everybody seems to be in a tizzy about some device, poem, or courtesan while en route in Burke's tales from, for example, the opening night of The Marriage of Figaro to the stealth fighter. To structure his trips, such as the one from Mozart to the F-117, Burke seizes on two individuals connected to an event or place and divides their stories into two distinct narratives. You are to read Track One on the left-hand pages, then flip back for Track Two on the right-hand ones. The author then springs his surprise — the contraption that unites the two tracks. Burke is as quirky and entertaining as ever. – Gilbert Taylor.
LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW = In each of 25 chapters, popular science writer Burke starts out with a significant historical event, then shows how it led in two different directions that eventually merge in the present, giving us a new understanding of our world.
AMAZON.COM REVIEW = James Burke, author and public television star, returns with another quirky look at the way history works. In Twin Tracks, Burke connects "trigger events" with unexpected outcomes. For instance, the invention of the lens-grinding lathe leads to hairdressing, and the debut of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro connects to development of the stealth fighter jet. These events are tied together via two tracks, one written along the book's left-hand pages, and one along the right. The narratives meet up in the end, giving readers a clear idea that the lines of history can be quite subjective. Some of the examples even run backward, as when Burke explains the connections between smallpox and the Big Bang. While Burke is justifiably famous for linking historical events, the paths he takes, especially those involving lots of unfamiliar names, can be tricky to follow: In 1710 the art collection was sold to Philip, regent of France, in a deal brokered by Benedetto Luti, the best painter in Rome at the time.... That year Luti took on an assistant.... By 1714 William Kent was painting originals.... His patron in all this was the trillionaire Earl of Burlington. The best way to read Twin Tracks, as with any of Burke's lovely books, is one chapter at a time, taking thinking breaks in between so as not to become overwhelmed by detail. The networks he describes form a more accurate, if more challenging, picture of history's motion than any linear sequence. -- Therese Littleton.
AMAZON BOOK REVIEWS
 Sean - America did not live in isolation = Once again James Burke takes us on a journey through a web of connections. This time it is the threads connecting the signers of the Declaration of Independence to various women and men here in America, and throughout Europe. Too many people presume that America was somehow isolated from world affairs in the early days of its inception, but this well written, with Mr. Burke's sharp wit, history will be an eye opener for most.
 Lewis L. Barger, III - Fans of Burke's earlier work will be disappointed. He still engages the reader with warmth and. = Fans of Burke's earlier work will be disappointed. He still engages the reader with warmth and humor, but the influential interrelation (often unintended) he described in works like "Connections" and "The Day the Universe Changed" have been largely reduced to the happenstance of proximity. He continues to offer up tidbits of history that are individually delectable, but he fails to deliver the intellectual banquets that he has, in the past, so consummately prepared.
 Brian - Fascinating history lessons = I never cared much for history in school, but these books really show the connections between discoveries and history. I highly recommend the book.
 John C. Simpson - Six Degrees of Connections = Although enjoyable, this is not James Burkes best work. This does indeed seem more like "Six Degrees of Connections" at times. Without revealing any sequences here, there are cases that demonstrate Burke's "Trigger Effect". Unfortunately there are too many (for my taste anyway) cases of Mr. X was working on this invention and then he was walking on the sidewalk across from Mr. Y who became famous for something completely different. Because this work concentrates on torturously linking together people rather than connecting the innovations the narrative tends to blend together.
 M. Gosse - Great book = This is an updated review. When I first purchased this book, the "twin tracks" presentation style was translated poorly across to the Kindle and I gave the review 3 stars. Subsequently there was an update to the ebook format, which removed the problem, and I have upgraded my review to 5 stars. If, like me, you are a fan of the chatty (side tracking historian) who writes like Bill Bryson, then you will love this book. If you want facts presented with little embellishment, I recommend you find a different author.
 K. Edw Lynch - Good read = An interesting take on the fascinating connections that make up the fabric of human progress.
 Mak Thorpe - Not an exercize in degrees of freedom = Burke is an excellent source for people getting an introduction to what is interesting about the history of ideas --- in particular the history of technological and scientific ideas. The connections are something like a superficial hopping about, and that really everything is related to everything using the principle of 6 degrees of freedom. This is a superficial analysis and unfair. Without giving away sequences in this book, consider a well known sequence of Burke's related in his popular Connections series. Use of the water wheel in medieval Europe employed a cam to lift hammers for use in things like beating metal. This mechanism of cams as used by complicated bell ringing instruments that used a rotating drum with pegs to trip the bell at the correct time. This system of using trips recorded on a passing pattern of "0"s and "1"s, (do something or do not do something) was used in the Jaccard loom to create complicated patterns in woven cloth. Punched cards were used as an innovation and later were used by tabulating machines to conduct the 1890 US census. The tabulating company created by Hollerith later evolved into IBM. It was a simple matter to jump from storing numbers to storing instructions in these binary patterns.
Is the sequence an exercize in 6 degrees of freedom? Not at all. Just because there is no linear causality or intended outcomes between these innovations, does not mean that they are not an accurate recording of a complicated stream of dependencies between these events. The way we came to computers was dependent on the development of the cam. It is possible that we would have come to it by a different avenue, but that is not the point. This is the way it happened, and it was circuitous, and like following a bouncing ball!
EXCERPTS - CHAPTER ONE
1804: Attack on Tripoli to Fish Sticks The first time the United States directly attacked Tripoli was at 9:47 P.M. on September 4, 1804. Under the watchful eye of the USS Constitution, the fireship USS Intrepid, packed with gunpowder and shells, sneaked into Tripoli harbor and blew itself up. This incursion was in response to four years of attacks by Tripoli pirates on American Mediterranean shipping, with the loss of one American ship and her three-hundred-person crew, at the time of the attack languishing in Tripoli jails (and, soon after, released). Track One The man controlling events that night, and in overall command (of the Constitution, three schooners, and eight other ships: a total of 156 guns and 1,060 sailors), was the bad-tempered Commodore Edward Preble, a veteran of the War of Independence. Preble had been ordered to make his base at Valetta on the island of Malta but, for various reasons, preferred Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Malta was British at the time, which might have had something to do with Preble's Sicily decision. At one point, Preble and his fellow officers dined with a visiting (and rather inquisitive) Brit, who, unknown to Preble, was working as spy and dispatch-writer for the Governor of Malta, Alexander Ball; Ball, a naval officer (and friend of Nelson), was an old hand at running ships and islands but less good at prose.
The scribbler in question had left England for Malta for reasons of health and was, by this time, trying (and failing) to kick his opium habit, while continuing to pen the stuff that would make him one of the most famous of all Romantic poets: Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In 1805 — having failed to give up drugs and yearning for the drizzle — Coleridge left Malta for London, via Rome, where he heard the news that Napoleon had him marked for assassination because of some earlier article he'd written in the Morning Post. The purveyor of this tidbit was the Prussian representative to the Vatican, Wilhelm von Humboldt. By this point Wilhelm was a well-known esthete with some major literary criticism work behind him. He would also go on to become a lead player in comparative linguistics and fail to complete a great work on some obscure Javanese dialect.
Prussian liberals like Wilhelm helped bring about teacher-training reforms and the establishment of a university in Berlin. They also talked a lot (cautiously) about civil rights and how the powers of the state should be limited. Most of this spirited chatter went on at the Berlin elite-meet salon (where Wilhelm dropped in from time to time) run by the extraordinary Rahel Varnhagen von Ense (née Levin), upwardly mobile daughter of a rich businessman. To her contemporaries, von Ense was the most cultured woman in Europe (only Mme de Staël might have disagreed). For a few years at the beginning of the century, von Ense organized gatherings that attracted princes, commoners, composers (Mendelssohn), thinkers (Goethe), poets (Heine), Jews and Christians, Germans and foreigners. You were welcome if you had a point of view, a witty tongue, or intellectually demanding matters to reveal. As was the case with the Reverend Friedrich Schleiermacher, a salon regular and local preacher. Schleiermacher was to religion what the Romantics were to the arts: a reaction to the rational excesses of the Enlightenment. Schleiermacher held that belief wasn't something to be objectively analyzed and dissected. Au contraire. It was a "mystical," utterly "subjective" experience that left the believer with a "feeling" of "absolute dependence." It was only through this immersion in the "sensation" of belief that one came to God. (If you read only what was in quotation marks, you have read key words from the Romantic Movement manifesto.)
In 1824 one of Schleiermacher's minor pieces (on the Gospel of St. Luke) was translated into English, and so impressed the ecclesiastical powers-that-were that it achieved for the translator the prestige job of bishop of St. David's in Wales. The high-flyer in question rejoiced in the anagram-fodder name of Connop Thirlwall. Began as a priest, then became a lawyer, then a classics don at Cambridge — where he made waves by saying that low-church Protestants should be let into the Church of England — was fired, became vicar of a church in bucolic nowhere, then finished his multi-volume History of Greece, and was elevated to the episcopacy. Thirlwall's History was published by the then-famous Dionysus Lardner. Regarded as a major science popularizer (or charlatan, depending on who was regarding), Lardner forecast the link to India through the Red Sea long before the Suez Canal, and lobbied for transatlantic steamships when people thought the idea of dropping sail was crazy. It was during his early years as professor of natural philosophy and astronomy at London University that he began his great Cabinet Cyclopedia (133 volumes, edited over twenty years — the Encarta of its day). Contributors were legendary, including Charles Macintosh, Sir Walter Scott, Sismondi, and Herschel. Lardner also included a young writer trying to make money to support her child after her husband had been drowned in a sailing accident in Italy in 1822. Mary Shelley — author of Frankenstein, pal of Byron, daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, fancied by French novelist/antiquarian Prosper Mérimée, grieving and beautiful widow of tragic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley — was everything a Romantic was supposed to be. In her later years she scraped a living from writings, which included the piece for Lardner on Italian literature. Mary dedicated her last effort ( Rambles in Germany and Italy, 1844) to a longtime friend, one of those poets who sink almost without trace. Ever heard of Samuel Rogers's "The Pleasures of Memory," 1792?
What Rogers lacked in talent he made up for in generosity. Having inherited a fortune at a young age, he proceeded (via a large and expensively decorated London house) to entertain anybody who wrote better poetry than he did. This had to be a great many and included Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Sheridan. All his life, Rogers continued to churn out poetry so bad that only he would publish it. Nonetheless, he must have impressed a senior bureaucrat because when Wordsworth died in 1850, Rogers was offered the poet laureateship. He declined the honor, so they gave it to somebody named Tennyson, by this time pulling out of a struggle with booze and with some very respectable work behind him. Tennyson was the Victorian poet par excellence, all gloom and saccharine. Apart from one foot wrong — written during the Crimean War ("The Charge of the Light Brigade" hinted at such incompetence in the army that it outraged every right-thinking harrumph) — Tennyson could do no wrong, especially after Queen Victoria gave him the ultimate nod. Throughout his writing career, Tennyson returned again and again to his love of the medieval and in particular King Arthur, with highly polished stuff like "Morte d'Arthur" and "The Lady of Shalott." Tennyson's knights-of-old flimflam fired the callow imaginations of every undergraduate, particularly those of William Morris and his pals Burne-Jones and Rossetti, who took medievalry further over the top, inventing the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting, and cutesy pseudo-14th-century Arts and Crafts wooden furniture and flowered wallpaper that gave you eyestrain. All of which made them a fortune when it hit late Industrial Revolution consumers beginning to yearn for the imagined simplicity and tranquillity of a recently bygone age of prefactory country pleasures.
This attempt to return to the purer life, of a time before the downtrodden proletariat existed, sprang from Morris's dyed-in-the-wool socialism. This he shared with George Bernard Shaw, a down-at-heel, frayed-cuff, would-be journalist, who joined Morris's Socialist League in 1888. In 1893 Shaw caused a furor with his first (censored) play, about a prostitute. Pungent on-stage social comment followed in the shape of boffo successes like: The Devil's Disciple, Major Barbara, Pygmalion (in a later existence, My Fair Lady ), and Arms and the Man. By the time he died at ninety, Shaw was considered the world's greatest living dramatist. Shaw socked it to all forms of what he considered humbug. Back in 1875 he wiped the floor with the visiting (and renowned) American evangelist Dwight Moody, after attending one of Moody's music-and-prayer revivalist meetings. Moody, who had started life as a boot salesman, set the mold for revivalists thereafter: rugged physique, dark suit, homespun philosophy, plain ungrammatical language, and the message that God loved you no matter what.
This approach went over very big with a medical student, Wilfred Grenfell, who went on to became a medical missionary to deep-sea sailors. In 1892 he visited Labrador and was so shocked by the poverty that he stayed longer and set up the Labrador Mission. When he quit, forty years later, the Mission consisted, among other things, of six hospitals, seven nursing stations, four schools, a lumber-mill cooperative, clothing distributors, and four hospital ships. In 1912 one of the temporary hospital-ship staff was a young man who had previously worked in the Labrador fur trade. He noticed that on days when the temperature was fifty below, whenever the local natives pulled fish out of the water, the catch instantly froze. And months later, when they thawed the fish out, he noticed that some of them showed signs of life. He tried the same trick on meat and veggies. All of which retained their taste and consistency if they were quick-frozen while still fresh. Could it be made to work on an industrial scale? Back in the States, by 1925 the young man was selling instantly frozen haddock fillets. After which, it was time for Clarence Birdseye to chill out and enjoy well-deserved fame and fortune. End Track One Track Two On board the USS Constitution that night was Lieutenant Isaac Chauncey, who did so well during the Tripoli war he ended up in charge of all naval forces on Lakes Ontario and Erie. Where, from 1813, he ran the first proper arms race in American history, launching ships as fast as he could build them so as to clobber the Brits, who were on the Canadian lakeshore launching ships as fast as they could build them. Before a full trial of strength could happen, the War of 1812 ended.
Chauncey's boss was William Jones, who was then invited to become acting treasury secretary. A year later (1814), the new economics czar resigned because his personal finances were in total chaos and he was up to his ears in debt. So, naturally enough, when a decision was made to set up the Second Bank of the United States, Jones was the first choice to be its president. Things at the new bank went rapidly down the drain and included allegations of fraud on the part of Jones. First off, the bank had expanded with dangerous rapidity, and then gave customers such easy terms that everybody and his dog borrowed money and speculation became rife. A month later, when things started going wrong, the bank recalled every loan. Property values dropped fivefold in some places, and all over the nation thousands of individuals and small businesses went bankrupt. One such loser was would-be bird painter J. J. Audubon, whose Mississippi steamboat enterprise sank like a stone, taking with it the entire savings of a newly immigrant, newly wed couple named Mr. and Mrs. George Keats. Back in England, George's brother, poet John Keats (who had lent them some of the money), went ballistic, vowing to clobber Audubon at first opportunity. Keats was the archetype of all Romantic poets: produced for only five intense years, was pale and wan, wrote about unrequited love and suicide and lovers' chopped-off heads, and caught the tuberculosis that killed him when still young. Quite apart from American money worries, Keats was always desperately short of cash. So when magazine proprietor and publisher John Taylor not only offered to print Keats's next epic offering, "Endymion," but also to come up with a healthy advance, Keats was as happy as a pig in manure. Taylor himself had, to this point, pursued an innocuous existence as a journalist, publisher, and writer on economic matters. Then in 1859, out of nowhere, came his The Great Pyramid: Why Was It Built? Taylor was convinced the Giza pyramid wasn't Egyptian at all, but had been designed by an Israelite (maybe even Noah himself) acting under divine orders. Furthermore, Taylor opined, the numbers relating to the pyramid's complex dimensions hid a secret, encoded message of universal importance, from you-know-who.
This claptrap proved to be irresistible to Charles Piazzi Smyth, who was otherwise totally sane. Smyth was an astronomer, Royal Society fellow, and pal of serious stargazers like Herschel. Nonetheless, bitten by the pyramid bug, at the height of his career he went off to Giza, measured every inch of the pyramid, and in 1865 announced that the "secret code" explained everything in the Old Testament and foretold the Second Coming. As a result of which the Royal Society booted him out. But others took up the mystery. Was it a coincidence, they asked, that the pyramid "inch" was exactly the same as the Imperial British inch? This fatuous but "strangely convincing" load of hocus-pocus was given the coup de grâce in 1880 by the down-and-dirty, in-the-trenches work of archeologist hardhead Flinders Petrie, whose dad had been a Pyramidology convert. Petrie's opinion on the matter was expressed in a paper written after exhaustive measure-and-dig efforts, and called for archaeology to be more brush-and-scrape routine and less now-it-can-be-revealed gobbledygook. His opinion of Pyramidology can be summed up in one word: "garbage."
Petrie set the tone for all later excavation, as he went through sites in Egypt and Palestine like a hot knife through butter (cut a trench, look at the layers, reveal the historical sequence). He was able to do this in Palestine, thanks to the energetic Palestine Exploration Fund money-raising capabilities of a great Victorian amateur, George Grove. Grove began as an engineer, working for the likes of shipbuilder Robert Napier and bridge builder Robert Stephenson, then graduated to secretary of the Society of Arts, music criticism and analysis, friendship with the musical greats, first director of the Royal College of Music, and finally, editor of the Dictionary of Music that now bears his name (and saves all of us long research hours in the library). In 1915 Grove's granddaughter Stella proposed to Peter Eckersley, and they were married. Two years later, Peter joined the Royal Flying Corps as a wireless equipment officer. In 1922 he was working for the radio equipment company (founded by Marconi) to be given the first license for regular radio broadcasts, which Eckersley organized (and took part in as actor, announcer, stage manager, and engineer). For half an hour every Tuesday, his team filled the airwaves for those very few able to hear them. A year later, the monopolistic never-consult-the-listener British Broadcasting Corporation was founded, and Eckersley became chief engineer.
His sidekick (assistant engineer) was Noel Ashbridge, who later rose to a position in which he made the crucial decision about which system ought to be chosen for the BBC's first TV broadcasts. He chose the twenty-five-frames-per-second, major-user-of-bandwidth, 405-line-scan approach pioneered by an extraordinary Russian immigrant named Isaac Schoenberg. The result, in London on November 2, 1936, was the world's first high-definition TV broadcast. Plaudits all round, and eventually (in the case of Schoenberg and Ashbridge) ennoblement as Sirs. Not so Eckersley, who was involved in a divorce and a whiff of scandal unacceptable to Auntie Beeb. Eckersley actually resigned (these were the days when standards were high and radio announcers wore evening dress). Schoenberg had earlier set up the first radio stations in Russia, before leaving in 1914 for pastures Western and more democratic. Apart from Schoenberg's success with TV, he made another right move in 1929 when he hired a young engineer, Alan Blumlein, to develop a system which would save Schoenberg (and the Beeb) from having to pay through the nose for American sound-recording equipment royalties. Blumlein produced the required system, and then in 1931 filed the patent for a technique that would generate the kind of sound to be enjoyed when the listener was using more than one ear. In 1934 Blumlein recorded Beecham conducting Mozart, with a recording stylus vibrating in two directions (in response to two incoming signals): one vertical and the other (in the same groove) lateral. We call what Blumlein made possible "stereo." Stereo first hit the general public in 1940 with Walt Disney's Fantasia, recorded in stereo by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski, who believed Hollywood could bring good music to the masses. Initially, he was wrong. It would take until 1960 for the mix of Mickey Mouse and the music of Bach, Tchaikovsky, Dukas, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Ponchielli, Mussorgsky, and Schubert to become a cult hit.
In the end, Stokowski's innovative approach (free breathing for the wind and free bowing for the strings, which produced the rich "Stokowski sound") and his penchant toward modern composers like Berg, Schoenberg, and such, made the Philadelphia old fogies see red, and Stokowski left for a flamboyant superstar life that included marriage to a Vanderbilt. One of his pals was perhaps unexpected for someone so extravagant. Irving Langmuir was a self-effacing chemist (Nobel, 1932) whose research ran the gamut from ice crystals in clouds and floating seaweed orientation to smoke screens and (his main obsession) molecular and atomic structures. This included some original thinking about valence and bonding (the way in which atoms could share electrons). Langmuir's results encouraged chemists to approach the whole matter of how molecules happened in ways that turned out to have some interesting potential. At least it did for Thomas Midgley, working for a lab in Dayton, Ohio, and asked by his boss to solve the problem of knock (incomplete combustion in the cylinder, and no good for cars or drivers). Taking Langmuir's how-molecules-come-together approach to the elements, Midgley went through every single one of them, looking for molecular arrangement that might do what was needed. Six years of minutiae later, in 1921 he found it: tetraethyl lead (the additive that gave gasoline the name "leaded"). Encouraged by this discovery, Midgley's boss then asked for a nontoxic, nonflammable refrigerant (those available at the time tended to leak and kill owners as they slept). When Midgley had it (this time it took him only three days), at the American Chemical Society meeting in 1930 he inhaled a lungful (to show it was nontoxic) and blew out a candle when he exhaled (to show it was nonflammable).
The new wonder product became known as Freon. Ironic that decades later Midgley's wonder chemicals should turn out to be bad for the individual (lead poisoning) and bad for the planet (ozone hole). End Track Two And Finally... Thus it was that when Clarence Birdseye's early fresh-frozen fillets were coming off his superchilled production line, Midgley's Freon-filled refrigerators were there to store them in. Fish sticks were here to stay.
RECOMMENDATION: You can re-read this summary according to a reinforcement schedule, such as a few hours later and a few days later and then several times in the next week or two. This strategy can help you take advantage of the power of the spaced-repetition method of memorization. Such deep introspection can strengthen your willpower and increase your self-esteem by changing your adaptable self-identity.
You Are Your Adaptable Memory!
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