The Best Episodes of Connections
Last Updated: May 10, 2019
The original ten volume series was made in 1978. The popular success of the series led to two sequels, Connections 2 (sometimes written Connections2) in 1994, and Connections 3 (or Connections3) in 1997, both produced for TLC. By turning science into a detective story James Burke creates a series that will fascinate students and adults alike. This interdisciplinary approach has never before been applied to history or science and it succeeds tremendously. Winner of the Red Ribbon in the American Film Festival, the scope of the series covers 19 countries and 150 locations, requiring over 14 months of filming. As the Sherlock Holmes of science, Burke tracks through 12,000 years of history for the clues that lead us to eight great life changing inventions-the atom bomb, telecommunications, the computer, the production line, jet aircraft, plastics, rocketry and television. Burke postulates that such changes occur in response to factors he calls "triggers," some of them seemingly unrelated. These have their own triggering effects, causing change in totally unrelated fields as well. And so the connections begin...
#1 - In Touch
Season 3 - Episode 10
An American scientist ponders the problem of nuclear fusion in 1951. This unleashes a series of connections that encompass superconductors, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, King George III, modern oceanography, the Versailles Gardens, Pagoda Mania, and handwriting analysis to arrive at the Global Net. Through this chain of unexpected connections, you, too, can "stay in touch."
#2 - Yesterday, Tomorrow and You
Season 1 - Episode 10
"Why did we do it this way?" Essential moments from the previous programs are reviewed to illustrate the common factors that make for change. Will they go on operating to affect our futures? And if so, can we recognize them? The second half looks at the extent to which we have become increasingly incapable of understanding how change occurs in our complex world and at why we are in such a predicament. Finally, there is a look ahead to the need for radical change in the availability and use of information in the future, if we are to remain in control of our destinies.
#3 - Faith in Numbers
Season 1 - Episode 4
Each development in the organization of systems (political, economic, mechanical, electronic) influences the next, by logic, by genius, by chance, or by utterly unforeseen events. The transition from the Middle ages to the Renaissance was influenced by the rise of commercialism, a sudden change in climate, famine and the Black Death, which set the stage for the invention of the printing press.
#4 - A Special Place
Season 3 - Episode 7
Meet a real live man who changed history with a totally new way of identifying you. Plus a four hundred-year trip through 20 locations. Swedish electricity and Dutch wind tunnels use a new type of photography. Aristocratic World War I fighter aces and their crazy mountain-climbing uncles. Touchy-feely times in Romantic Germany. The mysteries of ancient cities uncovered. Female painters in eighteenth-century London theaters lit by amazing new kinds of lights. Saving sailors from shipwreck and helping Caribbean smugglers. Astronomers, poets, fishermen, mathematicians and skeptics, bird-painters and Russian skullduggery lead the program to a final beauty-spot, where hundreds of Americans get drenched every day.
#5 - Fire from the Sky
Season 3 - Episode 8
How do you go from the majestic beauty of Iceland's geysers to the destruction of the Allied Firebombing of Hamburg in World War II? You stop by Stonehenge, chat with the mystical Caballists, talk to Martin Luther, Ozeander, Tycho Brahe and Mary Queen of Scots, before heading to the magnetic North Pole. The invention of gin and tonic will set you back on course to the discovery that mixing rubber with gasoline makes it burn slower, an integral component of any firebombing. It's all a matter of connections.
#6 - An Invisible Object
Season 3 - Episode 4
This program travels five hundred years into the past and back, to connect mysterious black holes in space with modern fast food, via thrills and spills on the Pony Express, Italian anatomy theaters and stolen corpses, the Sultan of Turkey's disastrous finances, Renaissance German jewelry, the invention of the screw, slide rules and American tobacco plantations, boiled potatoes, Spanish Inquisition thumbscrews, and why beer is served chilled. The show also includes a French Queen's dinner party, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, the greatest disaster in history (for wine-drinkers), squeaky-clean Swiss airplanes, and a fifteenth century French barber-shop quartet.
#7 - Hit the Water
Season 3 - Episode 9
If you launch your story in the cockpit of a Tornado Fighter Bomber-- the height of "smart bombs" operated by smart pilots -- dip into the history of margarine and plankton, travel to 18th Century Turkey to investigate small pox inoculations, dance at the ballet Copelia, then blow up a dam in Norway with a British commando team, how do you prevent Hitler from building and exploding atomic bombs? Through the infinite world of unexpected connections - an ingenious look at why and how Hitler never harnessed heavy water and the A-Bomb.
#8 - Bright Ideas
Season 2 - Episode 14
A Baltimore man invented the bottle, which led to razors and clock springs, and the Hubble telescope.
#9 - Life is No Picnic
Season 3 - Episode 5
The advent of modern coffee-vending machines spurs the creation of freeze dried coffee. This begins a revolutionary effort by the U.S. Army in World War II to lighten the soldiers' rations packs. The Star Spangled Banner lyrics are adapted from an ancient Greek poem. Mme de Stael of Switzerland drives the Romantic Movement forward in Europe. The Romantic Movement affects all thinkers which leads to future studies of animal development. Based on this research, Darwin proposes his Theory of Evolution.
#10 - The Long Chain
Season 1 - Episode 7
Often, materials discovered by accident alter the course of the world. In the 1600s Dutch commercial freighters controlled Atlantic trade routes. Competing British lines induced America to produce pitch to protect hulls of their royal vessels. This arrangement lasted until 1776, after which a Scottish inventor tried to produce pitch from coal tar. By the time he succeeded the navy was using copper instead. Subsequent experiments with coal tar yielded gaslight lamps, waterproofed garments, a brilliant mauve dye that established the German chemical industry and nylon, the first of the miracle plastics.
#11 - Routes
Season 2 - Episode 16
A sick lawyer in 18th Century France changes farming and triggers the French Revolution and new medical research.
#12 - Elementary Stuff
Season 3 - Episode 6
Darwin's Theory of Evolution is shared by Alfred Russel Wallace who has a strong belief in miracles and spiritualism. British interest in spiritualism is shared by physicist Oliver Lodge who develops the coherer, the device that makes radio reception possible. With the Swiss creation of postage stamp, Switzerland becomes the world postal center. Highlanders fearing oppression from Scottish rulers flee to North Carolina where turpentine is developed. The creation of the vacuum pump is instrumental in the discovery of both Boyle's Law and Pierre Perrault's hydrography. Quarrels about whether or not present language/literature is as good as that of the past leads to the fictional character Sherlock Holmes.
#13 - The Trigger Effect
Season 1 - Episode 1
Both the beginning and the end of the story are here. The end is our present dependence on complex technological networks illustrated by the NYC power blackouts. Life came almost to a standstill: support systems are taken for granted failed. How did we become so helpless? The technology originated with the plow and agriculture. Each invention demands its own follow-up: once started, it is hard to stop. This segment ends in Kuwait, where society has leaped from ancient Egypt to the technology of today in 30 years.
#14 - Photo Finish
Season 2 - Episode 7
The Le Mans 24-hour race is the backdrop for linking photography and bullets, relativity and blimps.
#15 - Separate Ways
Season 2 - Episode 8
Two trails split over slavery in the 18th Century. One route leads to the Wild West and Brooklyn Bridge, the other coining money and TV. Both end with a threat to peace.
#16 - Making Waves
Season 2 - Episode 15
Hairdressers, Gold Rush miners, Irish potato farmers and English parliamentarians are really tied together.
#17 - High Time
Season 2 - Episode 9
Unwrap a sandwich and you're on a path to World War II radar and Neo-Impressionist painters.
#18 - New Harmony
Season 2 - Episode 11
Microscopic bugs inspired the novel "Frankenstein" which aided the birth of Socialism.
#19 - The Big Spin
Season 2 - Episode 13
The greatest medical accident in history starts a trail that leads to Helen of Troy, 17th Century flower-power, the invention of soda pop and earthquake detection.
#20 - Feedback
Season 3 - Episode 1
In the twenty-first century, electronic agents will be our servants on the great web of knowledge. They will use the kind of feedback that won World War II. Feedback mathematics is invented to help guns hit their targets. The concept of feedback originated in the vineyards of France by a winemaker and physiologist named Claude Bernard. His ex-wife began the Humane Society, created to save people from drowning. Drownings increased due to an increase in shipping. All of this eventually leads to the hiring of a doctor at a sanitarium in Michigan. The doctor tries out new diets on the patients. The most successful product is named after him -- Kellogg's cornflakes.
#21 - What's in a Name?
Season 3 - Episode 2
A good breakfast leads to corn cob garbage by the ton. This is used for "furfan," and a whole new discipline no one's heard about, called furfan chemistry. Furfan can do amazing things, like creating resin for bonding. This leads to the creation of the tractor and, then the creation of the diesel engine. Believe it or not, James Burke shows how this all leads to the creation of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
#22 - Countdown
Season 1 - Episode 9
What happens when you combine a carbon arc light, a billiard ball coating, a spoked wheel and consecutive images? Motion pictures! Complex and sometimes incredible events led to Thomas Edison's remarkable invention; the beginnings of limelight on a Irish mountain; George Eastman's production of celluloid from the slightly explosive gun cotton; the ""magic lantern"" of an Austrian ballistics teacher. Then Eadweard Muybridge settled a bet in 1872 by photographs; does a horse raise all four feet when galloping? (Yes.) Today moving pictures, together with television, are enormously powerful mass media. Have we become trapped by our own technology?
#23 - Better Than the Real Thing
Season 2 - Episode 19
How the zipper started with technology Jefferson picked up in Paris during a row about Creation.
#24 - Déjà Vu
Season 2 - Episode 10
History repeats itself, when you know how to look. Pizzaro beats the Incas, the first stock market opens. The Queen of England salutes a Mexican beetle and Hitler's plans misfire.
#25 - Flexible Response
Season 2 - Episode 20
Robin Hood starts us on a trail from medieval showbiz to land drainage, to the invention of decimals that end up in U.S. currency, thanks to the guy who started the Erie Canal.