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The Ascent Of Man Paperback – 10 Mar 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books (10 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849901155
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849901154
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 263,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"The book and television series... are a superb teaching tool and a remarkable memorial" (Carl Sagan)

"A great book... it taught me a huge amount about mixing history and science" (Simon Singh)

Book Description

A new paperback edition of Dr Bronowski's classic history of humankind, with a foreword by Richard Dawkins

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating book that grew out of a fascinating TV series. The Ascent of Man attempts to follow the ascendancy of Mankind from his first evolutionary footsteps in pre-history through each significant cultural progression right up into the modern day, which was 1973, the date of publication of this book. Bronowski had a brilliant intellect and a huge knowledge of science and the arts. He also had a gift of articulating his knowledge in such a way as to make it, not only assessable, but interesting. Nowhere were his gifts put to better use than in this book. Chapter by chapter, he takes us through the ascent of Man, starting from the Stone Age caves of Altamira and through into agriculture; the discovery of fire and the elements; Pythagoras and mathematics; Copernicus, Galileo and astrology; Newton and Einstein; the Industrial Revolution; Darwin, Wallace and Natural Selection; Gregor Mendel and the discovery of Genetics, and into the final chapter, The Long Childhood, where Bronowski argues that science is “the recognition of the uniqueness of man, and a pride in his gifts and works. It is not the business of science to inherit the earth, but to inherit the moral imagination; because without that man and beliefs and science will perish together.” It’s a giddy but satisfying journey.
There are parts that I did not understand; but most of it I did. This is not heavy reading. Bronowski had a real literary touch. Take this for example: “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.” These two beautiful sentences set the tone and the subject of the book perfectly, and it is a standard that never lapses.
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Format: Hardcover
I well remember buying this book for myself, very soon after publication, back in 1974. The television series had amazed and enlightened me, and to have Dr Bronowski's words in my own hands seemed a great privilege. His clarity of thought and of explanation, and his overwhelming humanity made him a hero to me and a model for many imitators who followed.

Quite simply, this was a landmark book and one I treasure to this day. If some of the science has been overturned (and very little has) the essence is as vital as ever.

I intended giving this four stars, merely because it's over 30 years old and must surely have dated, but I see it hasn't at all, so I'm giving it five.
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Format: Paperback
The book of the television series (and now DVD release) which broke new ground in the delivery of historical and scientific analysis. Well-written, accessible, and comprehensively illustrated, it nevertheless lacks the power and impact of the broadcast and can be best enjoyed as an accompaniment to the series rather than as a substitute for it.
Bronowski presents his investigation of the development of civilisation in thematic form, exploring the ways in which the inexplicable have been explained and efforts made, if not to tame the world, at least to grapple with its explanation. He shows how the human mind has grown in vision, from the domestication of animals and grain, to the taming of fire, the understanding of the planetary system, and the manipulation of numbers.
The television series was an epic, a gripping and absorbing experience. Bronowski, demonstrated that he could communicate the complex, and this is equally true of the book. It does not, however, have the dynamism or excitement of the series. It does present Bronowski's greatest contribution, his emphasis that the true dynamic of science is not explanation but uncertainty: science is about questioning, about overturning assumed certainties. The true worth of civilisation is in promoting intolerance of ignorance.
Bronowski demonstrates that enlightenment has been hard won; however, if we view the human mind as capable of shining light into the darkness of ignorance, that mind can easily be misled. When he explores the nature of the concentration camp, he reminds us how easily the mind can be deluded, how illusory and ephemeral civilisation can be.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The TV series is one of the greatest documentaries made if not the greatest. However bear in mind that the text of the book is an ad verbatim transcription of each TV episode with a few random pictures and in this age of readily available DVDs is probably not that useful or enlightening when you can have Dr Bronowski telling it in the comfort of your own living room.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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