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The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski

The Ascent of Man (1973)

by Jacob Bronowski

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I learned a fair bit about bits of this and that from this response to Kenneth Clarke's classic "Civilization" series and book, basically the "the human in history as a function in science" to Clarke's similar take rooted in art. Bronowski's "wide-eyed urbanity" kind of schtick was alternately very charming and a bit much, like nobody could possibly be that blown away by the Victorian scientists and their vigour, like nobody who thinks of themselves as objective and a "man of science" likesay could really be that unreflective about whether China and India and the Middle East were really that Hegelian-philosophy-of-history torpid unless maybe he wasn't quite as free of preconceptions as he thought. ( )
  MeditationesMartini | Feb 2, 2018 |
This book, which is an augmented version of the narrative Bronowski delivered for the BBC series of 1973, which I haven't yet watched, is lucid and brilliant from start to finish. At first, I regretted not having the accompanying video, but this feeling passed quickly. My edition does have some illustrations, but they are all black & white and most are poorly reproduced. In the end, they aren't needed. The writing is so good, the argument so convincing, and the content so fascinating that the book is a joy to read. And what a guide--a mathematician who later turned to other sciences, while at the same time a scholar of English literature, Bronowski's ascent of man is both scientific and artistic. His focus on the accomplishments of individuals such as Galileo, Newton, and Alfred Russel Wallace is fascinating. Topics include discovering atomic structure, genetics, and, of course, evolution. It is sad that Bronowski didn't live a lot longer. I would love to see him discussing quantum physics. Highly, highly recommended! ( )
1 vote datrappert | Nov 16, 2017 |
Last year, for the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring, New Scientist magazine came up with a list of the top 25 most influential popular science books for readers to vote on for the top 10. This made the cut at #10, and for my money, should have been a lot higher. At least higher than Gaia.

Despite being published in 1976, it stands the test of time. A few things are negated by recent discoveries, but in general, Bronowski's book tells a great story.

"We are nature's unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove itself sounder than the reflex. Knowledge is our destiny"

I'd say the "unique" is "so far", but concur with the destiny.

Good stuff. Recommended
( )
  Razinha | May 23, 2017 |
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the rise of the blockbuster documentary series, such as 'The World at War', with Laurence Olivier's chilling narration, 'Alistair Cooke's America' and 'Civilisation', presented by Lord Kenneth Clark (father of the scurrilous diarist, Alan Clark). Professor Jacob Bronowski, renowned principally as an academic mathematician, conceived his own series, 'The Ascent of Man' as a match for Clark's 'Civilisation', presenting the development of human understanding and application of science.

The book is an almost verbatim transcription of Bronowski's series which was notable for his clear, readily accessible explanations of seminal moments in the history of scientific progress right from the earliest exploits of primeval man, through to theoretical physics and the commencement of the exploration of space. Even more impressive was the fact that most of Bronowski's eloquent disquisitions were entirely unscripted.

Though his own discipline was that of mathematics, Bronowski displays an enviable ability to convey complicated subjects in a manner understood by the layman. He is not reluctant to take on some of the more complex and daunting subjects, but he manages to render even Einstein's theories of relativity into a sufficiently digestible form.

He shows great sensitivity throughout building each chapter through a series of simple, logical steps to give a concise history of the development of a different aspect of modern science. The book was published more than forty years ago, so the frontiers of research in each discipline have been pushed to lengths that Bronowski could not have foreseen. His book, however, remains surprisingly current because he focuses on scientific methodology and trends in innovative thought, all portrayed with a compelling directness and simplicity. ( )
2 vote Eyejaybee | Apr 11, 2015 |
J. Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, what a wonderful piece of work. If my library caught fire this is the book I would grab, if I could, as I ran out. ( )
1 vote Novak | Jan 14, 2014 |
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This is not just a book about science. It is a book about why science matters, and what it really tells us. That is not a message likely to go out of date in a few decades.
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Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals: so that, unlike them, he is not a figure in the landscape—he is a shaper of the landscape.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is the book. Please do not combine with the TV series.
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Traces the development of science and the discoveries that have made man unique amoung animal species.

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