The Day the Universe Changed (book)

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US first edition.

The Day the Universe Changed is a history book by James Burke published in 1985 and serves as the companion book to his television documentary of the same title. It focuses on the historical events that had a major affect on human history.

Personal

I owned the DVD of the documentary series and started watching it, but stopped, then years went by. When I saw this book at a used book store, I bought it, and, when I started reading it with the intention of watching the series in concert with it. I started reading this book at the end of 2019 as my lunch time reading, but, the COVID-19 pandemic caused it to languish in my car for about a year until I got vaccinated and felt comfortable eating in public again. After that, I started reading it again and watching the series again too. I only got a couple pages each week day since, so I didn't finish it until 2022-02-11, long after I had finished the series. In the end, I found the book to be far more informative than the series, however, like the series, it seemed pretty jumbled.

Status

I own the 1985 US paperback and have read it.

Review

Good

  • James Burke doesn't pull any punches with the authoritarian ignorance of the church and the many times they failed to make good with their "wisdom."
  • The book is chock full of important historical aspects of history both technological and philosophical.
  • The book is fully illustrated with hundreds of period art pieces which really help put the history in context.

Bad

  • The book doesn't focus on specific monumental changes in technology or thought, but rather shows a gradual march of progress over time that eventually culminate in a massive change. While that's a perfectly useful approach to teaching history, it doesn't fit with the book's theme of severe changes happening overnight.
  • The book focuses almost exclusively on European, especially British, history. Not exactly "universal."
  • Many of the topics covered were already covered earlier in Connections, so, much of this seems like review instead of something new.
  • It's always important to exercise care when describing bigotry and science, and Burke isn't as careful as he should be. For example, he writes that Darwin gave scientific credibility to eugenicists and racists — a poor choice of words. It would be better written as, bigots tried to appropriate Darwin's credibility for their racist pseudoscience. Also, although Burke writes about how people twisted evolution for their own political views, he doesn't explain the folly of this, or even mention how it incorrectly depicts evolution.
  • It's also important to exercise care when comparing the supernatural to science. In the final chapter Burke says scientific thinking and religious thinking are similar in that they both strive to understand the world. I partially agree with that, but then he suggests that they can both be used to explain reality, and are both valid. No. Religious thinking can't explain anything, it's mere assertion without evidence and has no explanatory utility. And, while neither aren't "true" in the purest since of the word, science at least improves, while religion was wrong from the beginning and will stay that way forever. He further suggests that science is not objective (it is) and uses cyclical reasoning, which is only true at an axiomatic level.
  • A full line of text is missing from the US paperback on page 215.

Ugly

  • Nothing.

Media

Covers

Links

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