978-0-7432-5810-4 / 074325810X

Twin Tracks: The Unexpected Origins of the Modern World

by Burke, James

Publisher:Simon & Schuster



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About the book:

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

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