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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 22 September 2011
I've learnt more in the course of watching this compelling series than I did during seven years of secondary school education.

It's not simply a matter of Jacob Bronowski's intellect, but his own life experience and essential humanity that shines through and informs every word. I've never seen anyone conflate the arts and science as he does - and with such charisma, as though he's sharing some secret knowledge with you. You can't help but be flattered by his concentrated attention.

It's a masterclass in the art of the authored documentary, effortlessly juxtaposing different periods, personalities and ideas and always with a satisfying visual style - from the framing of individual shots to the staging of elaborate set-ups (see the surreal opening to Programme 11 about the imperfection of knowledge in which a giant human head sits incongruously on the beach with an assortment of scanners, cameras and other devices arranged about it).

It's not simply the story itself and how Bronowski chooses to tell it, but how he encourages you to think about the nature of human progress - our journey - and the limits of our own knowledge that is most affecting. He makes you think, rather than simply 'receive'; he makes you care, rather than simply understand.

There's an additional nostalgic pleasure to be had that was not available to the original audience in 1973 - whether its the giant computer with its childlike rendering of atomic structures, the locations populated with what are now considered vintage cars or Bronowski's own delightfully idiosyncratic wardrobe.

There's also the awareness that man's ascent has accelerated in the decades since the series was produced and you can't help but imagine how Bronowski might have enthused about the multitude of new discoveries and inventions since - the new planets, new elements, new leaps in DNA analysis, the discovery of the missing links between man and ape, the new age of telephony, computing and internet etc.

There's also a lesson here for contemporary programmer-makers: the most compelling instrument in the medium remains the power and personality of the human voice.

I can't recommend this highly enough and - if you're any kind of media student or content producer - it's a must-have.
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on 5 March 2017
'The Ascent of Mankind'.
A truly great (in the real sense) pioneering documentary. Sadly not many are made like this any more, apart from those of David Attenborough, who as Controller of the new BBC 2 in the late 1960s was the pioneer who commissioned this series in early colour. It was intended as the scientific follow up to the worldwide hit series on western european culture presented by Lord Clark 'Civilisation' , and Alastair Cooke's 'America'. also commissioned by BBC 2.
What a relief to switch over from the unchallenging TV of today to watch a ground breaking documentary (of its time). A gripping and fascinating history of science with an impressively brilliant presenter, Dr Jacob Bronowski, who assumed an educated audience, able to concentrate.
13 mind stretching instalments and a fascinating booklet about its making.
'Civilisation' is now being remade, so let's hope 'The Ascent of Man' will also have a modern sequel.
Pity it wasn't titled 'The Ascent of Mankind' though. Not recommended for Tweeting Twits.
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I am a cerebral man. This four dvd collection appeals to the very core of my being. I shall draw your attention to two of Jacob Bronowski's perspectives on the ascent of man.

One is that humans are the only animal to make love face to face. Combined with the observation that the human female is the only female of any animal to have an orgasm and we have a direction to take our understanding of these findings.

Two is the view that only a human is both solitary and social.

In the case of the observation concerning making love you could say this encourages social/family development. Or you could say it's learn and move on. Another fundamental outlook of Dr Bronowski is that science, in science nothing is certain. The parallel with the certainties of Nazi Germany is compellingly put.

The stifling of human intellect in childhood is seen as an enemy of civilisation. Conformity is a killer. Civilisation limits the imagination of the child. It is the individual who carries integrity with ease. I despair at the debilitating conformity around me.

It is true I longed for the most up to date information on much of the scientific analysis. DNA, for example, seems to be on the road to eradicating crime altogether. I would have liked to see the latest developments. But do not let this distract you from the Doctor's lecture on the human animal (if you are concerned about 'man' for mankind). His insights never falter. I could not help but notice the story is one of individuals. Never the ignoramus that is society.
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on 6 February 2014
i've been watching this in handy bite-sized chunks with my son who is too young to have seen it first time round. Compared wuith modern documentaries it may seem a little dated, but I love the fact that it doesn't suffer from flashy costumed reenactments to illustrate every point. Bronowski clearly not only knows his subject but delivers it clearly and concisely. It's like sitting in on an accessible academic lecture transported to the actual location. Oh how i wish I'd had this chap teach me maths.
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on 17 May 2017
Easily one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, while Bronowxki is a little dry as a presenter he still manages to engage the audience. It is informative and entertaining. Would be a great aid to students but well worth watching for anyone interested in history and especially how man became what he is today.
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on 22 May 2017
Great documentary with a man insanely passionate about the subject. Stands the test of time really well and makes you think about the social aspect of human history as much as physical and technological
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on 16 June 2016
A superb book. Couldn't put it down. Read it several times and then bought the DVD's of the original programs and enjoy them too.
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on 12 January 2016
I think so it was for a present
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on 10 June 2010
"The Ascent of Man" traces the unique cultural and technological rise of that species of animal we have labelled "Homo Sapiens". From the first step of the upright ape to the marvels of the modern age, this series explains, in simple yet passionate terms, how Man has come to dominate the planet. And it is unique in its approach in that while today's account of Man's dominance relies on scientific theory, this series explains where the scientific theories came from. Throughout the series a subtle emphasis is placed on the practicality of life, the necessity for Man's physical engagement with his environment and how it led to new ideas, theories and inventions ( a classic piece of televisual poetry, among many in this wonderful series, is the image of an ancient plow slicing through the earth coupled with the image of a warship's prow, similar in design and intention, cutting through the waves). Filmed at a time before the cultural heritage of nations was corrupted by tourism, this series reveals lands and cultures which, at the time of filming, were relatively unknown and distant to the western world. Thus, this series is also a record of lifestyles and customs that have disappeared in the last decade due to the attraction of "civilation".
But it is not only the beauty of the filming that arrests one's imagination. It is Bronowski's simple, yet poetic narration that makes this series compulsive viewing. He addresses the viewer in terms that clearly reflect his deepest passion. The viewer is not dictated to, he/she is simply spoken to, as a friend, with a depth of thought and humanity never before expressed by narrators. Bronowski's style of adressing the viewer influenced all that followed (consider Atenborough). An example; while we are used to presenters addressing us directly and in scripted terms,and where everything is televisually perfect, it is clear that Bronowski is reflecting upon his narration, occasionally turning from the camera, gazing at wonders or reflecting on the enormity of the situation he addresses. The pauses in his narration indicate that he is a man who chooses words carefully in order to express the wonder he feels. This "casual" approach makes the viewer feel as if he/she is actually in the prsence of the man. It is this unique, individual approach to narration that makes this series more than just an account of Mankind, of which there are many. It is, as Bronowski states, his personal view of the rise of our species. And what a view! Humanitarian, passionate and thoughtful, Bronowski's outlook on the nature of this world could offend only the most ignorant and savage of our species. For all he does is take the scientific view of the world and express it in poetic and relevent terms. In short, he brings a sense of reality to abstract science.
This is a superb series. In fact, I would argue that it is, in itself, a major step in the Ascent of Man: for it is the first attempt to bring the reality of our cultural and technolgical evolution to the masses in a serious, yet meaningful way. Today all documentaries stick to a rigid code of production and, regardless of their subject, bow to the dictatorship of modern science. "The Ascent of Man" is the last example of independent scientific thought. Bronowski goes to great lengths to express the subservience of science to man, thus opposing the common view that man is a slave to science (as we are today).
The footprint of the first upright ape in Africa and the footprint of Armstrong on the grey dust of the Moon differ only in the stride. This series traces the first tentative steps of a small group of animals in Africa to their leap into the universe utilising the only thing they could rely on; their humanity.
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on 8 October 2005
An epic investigation into human civilisation and one of the jewels in the BBC's crown, Jacob Bronowski's 'The Ascent of Man' was one of the most gripping and absorbing television experiences I have ever witnessed. At an age when I should have been going off down the pub and making a nuisance of myself, I stayed in, week after week to watch this production.
Bronowski, by the 1970's, was a well-known figure on British television - an intellectual and a scientist who could communicate the complex without sounding simplistic or making the viewer feel stupid. But 'The Ascent of Man' seemed a programme too far. The BBC charter, and the BBC's experience, might emphasise the need to educate and inform, as well as entertain, but surely an exploration of this nature was too vast and too cerebral for prime-time viewing? There were many who felt that it was pretentious of the BBC and that it would be played to a distinctly minority audience.
The result was not simply that Bronowski produced groundbreaking television and set the tone for the future, his exploration of human civilisation crossed the bridge of irony - the British public was not merely ready to watch this programme, they wanted exploration and enquiry, and they wanted the sort of production Bronowski could deliver. Here we had intelligent, intellectual analysis which was sustained by human values, not cold science! Bronowski conveyed passion and excitement and made knowledge and learning warm with emotion and anticipation!
Bronowski could inject passion into a fossil! He comes across as such a lover of life. This is not just a quick history of the world ... this is excitement captured on television, and now on DVD. The great quality of 'The Ascent of Man' is that Bronowski does not set out to deliver fact, incontrovertible statements set in stone - rather he sets out to question and to sow in the minds of the viewer the seeds of doubt, the questions which will stimulate them to enquire, to enquire, and enquire again and never to take for granted. The scientific method is not the cold pursuit of certainties ... it is the human dynamic of uncertainty and the artistry of explanation. Science and history are alive.
And Bronowski never makes this point more clearly than when he kneels in a concentration camp and plucks up a handful of earth. It is a scene of such humility and compassion, it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Evil lies in blind acceptance and obedience. The essence of civilisation is in questioning, doubting, thinking outside the box. And, in 'The Ascent of Man', the BBC brought the box into the living room and delivered out of it one of the epic pieces of television history and one of the most civilising productions any media has yet carried. Magnificent. Five stars is just for starters!
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