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← [UPDATE] The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski - book review (and Foreword by Richard Dawkins)

[UPDATE] The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski - book review (and Foreword by Richard Dawkins) - Comments

Agrajag's Avatar Comment 1 by Agrajag

I saw the series on the BBC when it first came out. It was an amazing piece of work. I still have a dog-eared copy of the book, but maybe a new one is in order. :-)

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 04:54:45 UTC | #616367

Haymaker's Avatar Comment 2 by Haymaker

I bought The series when it was re- released on DVD along with Alistair Cooke's 'America' and Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation" Marvelous!

A less well know fact about Bronowski ( and one that many would like to forget ) is that he invented or at least helped to invent, the so called "Bronowski Bullet" or "Bronowski Brick" which was a form of smokeless fuel compressed into briquettes. Unfortunately the manufacturing process caused so much pollution and stink that the "Coalite" plant near my home which made the damn things was forced to close down within 3 years of opening.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 05:45:35 UTC | #616373

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 3 by AtheistEgbert

I had the original book to the TV Series (sadly I have it no longer) and the persecuted Galileo by the Catholic church were one of the reasons which turned me away from religion. Thus it was one of those primary work that changed my thinking. An incredibly important and influential book.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 09:19:00 UTC | #616394

pittige 's Avatar Comment 4 by pittige

i read this book forty years ago and it is still the last sentence that makes it important : knowledge is our destiny

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 09:22:20 UTC | #616396

Corylus's Avatar Comment 5 by Corylus

Santa got me the DVD this year and it is very good indeed. (When the series first came out I was but the proverbial twinkle.)

A remarkable achievement not only for the clear exposition of the history of science, but also for being a magnificent refutation of the pernicious and intellectually limiting dogma of the 'two cultures'.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 09:40:28 UTC | #616398

submoron's Avatar Comment 6 by submoron

Marvellous; and the new introduction is worthy of the book.

I remembered the end of "knowledge or certainty", which is chapter/programme 11 of 13, on 911 because the end is so relevant.

"It is said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people where turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods."

I'm not going to quote any more but he speaks of the human nature of science and of the need for doubt. I noticed that Michael Shermer thought of the same passage on that occasion.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 11:15:42 UTC | #616414

Reckless Monkey's Avatar Comment 7 by Reckless Monkey

Just found a copy of the book in a second hand book shop for $2. Already have a copy I got from another 2nd hand book shop. Saw the series when I was 15 and it opened my eyes up to the interconnectedness of everything. I remember particularly, his description of the periodic table just clicked with me then and I had one of those AH HA! Moments when the universe just made so much more sense. I would love for them to re-release some of his other work. BBC should re-visit some of his radio work.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 12:02:13 UTC | #616419

Ocellatus's Avatar Comment 8 by Ocellatus

Purchasing via the Amazon links below will direct a percentage of the proceeds to RDFRS. Note that this is a BBC book and both options below will ship from the UK. Shipping times and costs to the US vary depending on the supplier

There are no links to Amazon below...

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 12:17:25 UTC | #616421

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 9 by xmaseveeve

Comment 7, submoron,

That's the bit I remember too. He also bent down and lifted a handful of the mud of Auschwitz. He said that his relatives had died there. It is still, for me, the most heartbreakingly memorable moment in television. He was a wonderful, kindly and didactic man.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 13:17:12 UTC | #616434

submoron's Avatar Comment 10 by submoron

Comment 10 by xmaseveeve

Yes, I had the book open by me as I typed. On the facing page there are three stills from that sequence. I've got a 1976 book club reprint of the first version and I preordered the DVDs as soon as they were announced..

I think that "avuncular" and "urbane" are good words to apply.

May I put in a word for Attenborough? He commissioned this series after "Civilisation" was a success and, as someone says in the Guardian comments, you'd never get a current series without the cliches and gimmicks now considered mandatory.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 13:54:00 UTC | #616442

Garnetstar's Avatar Comment 11 by Garnetstar

The book was my first encounter with the theory of evolution. I need not say more.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 14:05:57 UTC | #616447

yesnomaybe's Avatar Comment 12 by yesnomaybe

I can still remember the TV series so long ago, and how distinctive and wonderful it was. It's actual wisdom and humanity made it seem "unworldly", since we usually seek and find a diet of nonsense and distraction. Glad to see Richard at the forefront of this reissue.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 16:00:50 UTC | #616470

kev_s's Avatar Comment 13 by kev_s

The end of the Auschwitz episode is something I have never forgotten either. (#11: Knowledge or Certainty) It sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it. At the end of the episode they did not play the usual theme music ... just showed some photos of victims in silence and then the credits. It is incredibly moving. If you have never seen this series you have really missed out on something special. It is on youtube ... no excuse.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 16:31:28 UTC | #616478

JHJEFFERY's Avatar Comment 14 by JHJEFFERY


But just a quibble--a personal quirk.

I firmly believe that the brilliant and fearless Carl Sagan was the last polymath--not only the last we have seen, but the last we will ever see, as our depth of knowledge has crossed the tipping point that prohibits understanding of its breadth.

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 17:59:19 UTC | #616506

Alan Canon's Avatar Comment 15 by Alan Canon

Comment 15 by JHJEFFERY :


But just a quibble--a personal quirk.

I firmly believe that the brilliant and fearless Carl Sagan was the last polymath--not only the last we have seen, but the last we will ever see, as our depth of knowledge has crossed the tipping point that prohibits understanding of its breadth.

Fans of Douglas Hofstadter (and I am one of them) might disagree....

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 20:53:29 UTC | #616545

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 16 by Cook@Tahiti

Comment 16 by Alan Canon :

Fans of Douglas Hofstadter (and I am one of them) might disagree....

Fans of Stephen Fry (and there are 2.5m of them on Twitter) might disagree... :)

Sun, 17 Apr 2011 22:45:07 UTC | #616567

Rattlesnake's Avatar Comment 17 by Rattlesnake

Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention.

Mon, 18 Apr 2011 01:39:01 UTC | #616600

brainsys's Avatar Comment 18 by brainsys

I saw the TV series and read the book when I was 24. It had a profound affect on me. Civilisation had been a great series but that was done by a distinguished man taking through his personal gallery of life as a great curator.

Jacob was different. Here was a man who was handing down the tablets of knowledge achieved so far to a younger generation and enthusing them to dig deeper. All laced with a critical view of how man handled knowledge. For us, who were closer to WW2 though our parents, it was a pointer that for every Hitler there were men who could live through that, remembering it, but being fundamentally optimistic that humanity could rise above that and enjoy doing so.

Having said that - the speech at Auschwitz was, for me, the most poignant experience I have ever encountered. How do you sum up a global catastrophe so simply, so eloquentally, in so few words? (And without a script!)

One quibble - why change that iconic book cover?

Compare this with the Beeb's new Brian Cox spectacular. On second thoughts - DON'T!!!

Mon, 18 Apr 2011 10:13:00 UTC | #616669

PERSON's Avatar Comment 19 by PERSON

Comment 19, etc by brainsys et al

Tsk. Nostalgia. Cox is trying to do something quite different.

Compare it instead with something like "Monarchy", "A History of Britain" or even "The Cell" none of which I recall being gimmicky beyond the kind of visual effects that were used in TAoM, the slow motion ignition of a match, for instance.

The series is on if you want to rent it. Hopefully if enough people ask for it they'll negotiate with the BBC to put it on-line :) I didn't realise there was a book to go with it.

Mon, 18 Apr 2011 12:32:29 UTC | #616693

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 20 by Jonathan Dore

Also well worth reading is Bronowski's short series of three essays Science and Human Values, originally given as lectures in 1953. Faber republished them in the UK a couple of years ago, as they have his book on Blake and some other writings.

The Ascent of Man is still the pinnacle of my personal TV pantheon.

Mon, 18 Apr 2011 12:44:34 UTC | #616699

Quiddam's Avatar Comment 21 by Quiddam

Jacob Bronowski stands in sharp contrast to Benjamim Stein

Jacob Bronowski: A man with knowledge who blames dogma for the holocaust Benjamin Stein: A man with dogma who blames knowledge for the holocaust

Mon, 18 Apr 2011 22:29:28 UTC | #616879

Quiddam's Avatar Comment 22 by Quiddam

Mon, 18 Apr 2011 22:31:12 UTC | #616880