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The Ascent of Man

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  5,783 ratings  ·  227 reviews
Lauded by critics & devoured by readers, this companion to the BBC series traces the development of science as an expression of the special gifts that characterize humans & make us preeminent animals. Bronowski's exciting, illustrated investigation offers a perspective not just on science, but on civilization itself.
Lower than the angels
The harvest of the seasons
Paperback, 520 pages
Published September 1st 1976 by Little Brown and Company (first published 1973)
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Richard Kolivoski One thing that Carl Sagan asserts is the wonders of the Cosmos and the comparative insignificance of mankind. Bronowski is not Sagan. He will demonstr…moreOne thing that Carl Sagan asserts is the wonders of the Cosmos and the comparative insignificance of mankind. Bronowski is not Sagan. He will demonstrate with equal vigor and insight, that mankind possesses the one thing that no other being or known force in the universe can-- the ability to change the environment through thought and action.

I agree with Sagan that mankind is not the pinnacle of all creation. We are not the center of the universe, nor was the universe designed for us. Bronowski, in contrast, reminds us that humans are still fascinating, inventive, beings capable great things.(less)

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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Nov 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Joshua Nomen-Mutatio by: Bobby Trigg
"It's said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That's false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were 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 the ...more
Roy Lotz
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fifty years from now, if an understanding of man’s origins, his evolution, his history, his progress is not in the common place of the school books, we shall not exist.

I watched this series right after finishing Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, as I’d heard The Ascent of Man described as a companion piece. So like my review of Clark’s work, this review is about the documentary and not the book (though since the book is just a transcription of the series, I’m sure it applies to both).

The Asce
Jason Estrin
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. This book inspired me in a way that I've never been before. What is explained by the man, is nothing short of crystal clear descriptions of Humankind's physical, scientific, sociological and theological discoveries from the very first roaming tribes to our modern era. It is presented, stripped of the wordy, overly philosophical ramblings and data heavy meanderings found in other books that cover similar subject matter. Concise, endearing, earthy, genius. A must for anybody who needs a ...more
Paul Brogan
Aug 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
There are two things to remember about this book. First, it was published in 1973: it is surprising how, in the course of only 40 years, our knowledge of our evolutionary history has advanced. Second, it was originally a TV series made by the BBC: the book is arranged into 13 essays, I assume based on the original episodes.

The book starts logically enough at our roots in east Africa five million years ago. Bronowski doesn’t make nearly enough of how touch-and-go it was, not only then but at seve
Simon Hollway
Mar 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, anthropology
Powerful stuff...consistently sublime segues between chapters, historical periods and theories. At least a dozen phenomenal insights into several anthropological mainstays. A manner of metaphor and analogy that distills entire theses into a single, resonant sentence. Humility of expression and thought twinned with a generosity of spirit keep the subject in the spotlight throughout whilst the narrator discretely maintains the tempo unseen, offstage.

As suitable for the adept as it is for either th
Koen Crolla
May 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology
I never thought I'd say this, but this book would be better if it had been written by an anthropologist rather than a mathematician.

The Ascent of Man is the companion book to the 1973 BBC documentary of the same name; I didn't realise this when I bought it (I haven't seen it), but I remembered I knew of its existence upon reading the introduction. It certainly reads like a BBC documentary, with a tediously slow and pompous prose that works better for television narration by David Attenborough or
Jee Koh
Jul 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Based on the BBC television series of the same name, The Ascent of Man charts the development of human civilization through the lens of scientific progress. Though clearly intended to be only an introduction to its subjects, the book is tremendously wide in scope, taking in paleontology, architecture, alchemy, industrialization, quantum physics and genetics; noticeably, it has little to say about psychology. It is organised in powerful thematic chapters that are also more or less chronological. ...more
Seizure Romero
Jan 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book was assigned for a college course I took about a thousand years ago. The instructor was obsessed with Jacob Bronowski, so he played many, if not all of the documentary episodes that went along with the book, probably so he could sit in the corner and hide his boner (c'mon, the course was called "The Ascent of Man" fer chrissakes. It should have been called "The Life and Times of Jacob Bronowski Plus Some Stuff That Might Make You Ungrateful Wankers Appreciate Not Living in Mud Huts." T ...more
Feb 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
I did not finish this book so I won't officially count it in my own stats as read. But there's no real way to indicate that here. They need an "abandoned" choice. The reason why I'm reviewing it is because there are numerous errors in the first chapter that make this a problematic read. That's as far as I got. These errors have to do with human evolution. This book was originally published in 1973 so that explains some of the mistakes, but not all. And the mistakes that would not be blamed on th ...more
Joan Colby
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A marvelous study of man’s rise shown through the lens of scientific discoveries. Written for the intelligent layman, and the basis of the lauded TV series, this is an essential book for anyone interested in the evolution of science.
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
After reading so many books about the descent of the man, I finally decided enough was enough and I needed to read a book about a man going upward. From fire to fission there are so many steps on the latter to go from being a baby what crawls to a man what can destroy entire cities full of people without damaging their precious buildings. My only complaint about this story is that there was no reference to Boys II Men a group of minstrels what clearly understood the story of ascending men better ...more
Apr 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good passages here and there and definitely worth reading. Still, most of the time a strange mix of philosophy and science in which neither gets to bloom the way that it could have. Probably better to watch it as the TV show (of which this book is the almost 1:1 transcript).
Dick Edwards
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Andrés Astudillo
Definitely, I know why Carl Sagan recommended it. The book is an ode to scientific progress, thus human civilization. Bronowski, I feel he doesn't share the concept of misanthropy, however, he really points out the fact that there are demons to hunt, those that are inside our heads, human heads. The book is a mix between history and science. Everyone who loves a little bit about science is going to love it. He writes so passionately about the ancient man, and every little achievement that ever t ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Knowledge is our destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science, waits ahead of us.'

Copy found while wasting time in Bloomsbury's Skoob Books.
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski is a wonderful book about the beginnings of the human species and all of the fascinating and incredible leaps and bounds in knowledge and technology we have made.

There are 12 chapters and they touch upon so many different subjects. Our story begins in the savannas of Africa, where our ancestors were once tree dwellers and eventually began to walk upright. Humans transformed stones into tools and became hunter-gatherers, ultimately bringing forth the Neolithic
Todd Martin
Aug 30, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is based on a television documentary series produced in 1973 by the BBC in association with Time-Life Films. The title alludes to The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin. The book traces the development of human society through its understanding of science.

The book is written in a rather odd and stilted style which I found completely bizarre at times. Here's an example:
"The role of women in nomad tribes is narrowly defined. Above all, the function of women is to produce men-children; too
Simon Mcleish
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Originally published on my blog here in August 2001.

Like Kenneth Clarke's Civilisation, The Ascent of Man is a series looked up to by every producer of factual, educational TV programmes. It probably wouldn't get made today, as its broad canvas is not really fashionable, and it is not about ordinary people. Its subject is the history of science, far removed from the pseudo-anthropology of "Reality TV".

The arrangement of material is a little unusual; it is basically thematic, each chapter trackin
May 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book.
It's full of fascinating facts and stories from our past. It consists of many episodes but it is essentially one long story. It's our story. How did we, human beings, rise from the animal world and become what we are today.
I will always remember the story about the appearance of first hybrid wheat in the Middle East and raise of agricultural societies.
There is also a lot of interesting stories about scientists. I’ve heard about all of them but I found so many amazing de
Dec 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent book about the story of mankind not too dissimilar from Jared diamonds guns germs and steel. the book starts off with the evolution of man from basic mini monkey types like the Limur (king Julian!) through to homo erectus, Neanderthal and finally homo sapien around 100,000 years ago. Then the book really begins by exploring a whole whose of subjects like: food, nomad cultures, structures and architecture, fire, metals, numbers, islam and the rise of Europe through the renaissance and t ...more
Jun 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Patricia Edie
Finished after 3 weeks of slogging through it. I took that long, not because it isn't interesting, but because it is. With a book like this one I like to read and give thought and analysis what I have read. It is just the way my thinking works, I guess I'm not that "quick".
The Ascent of Man is our scientific development from the start using small ancient hand tools and the emergence of our humanity through the development of quantum physics, DNA, cognitive science, artificial intelligence. and b
This non-fiction book is written based on the groundbreaking BBC television series with the same name. First published in 1973, is considered on the first works of popular science. It illuminates the historical and social development of human beings with a scientific attitude toward this long pace of life on earth.
The story is a personal view of Dr Bronowski, with his highly accessible style and powerful words. He discusses the human invention of flint tools, animal and wheat domestication, geom
Sep 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-to-be-read
This is basically an abridged urdu translation of "The ascent of man "by J. Bronwski ,translated by Mansur Saeed , fiction House Lahore,Pakistan.The author follows the evolution of man through the era of pre homo-erectus ,peking man ,homosapiens ,ica age ,pastoral and agricultural revolution,introduction of wheel and pully ,hanging gardens of babylone,greek geometry, Arabic algebra, marchant of venice ,vatican censors, theory of relativity, Quantun physics ,genetics DNA, Cloning , and finally co ...more
Tom Quinn
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Enormous in scope and celebratory in tone: this is The Story of Man. The narrator does not speak so much as proclaim. The writing here really gets you excited to learn the history of Mankind, the development of Civilization, the discoveries of Science, and to be a part of their future. Bronowski strikes a beautiful balance between his personal voice and hard data, between narrative flair and historical fact. It's a delight to read, at once universal and intimate. Really, it's one of the best wor ...more
Jul 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
A whirlwind tour of human history, the development of society and culture, and the importance of intellectual freedom. This is a great book if you're interested in the roles of science, art, and ingenuity in our world. The author's breadth of knowledge is unparalleled, and it shows through as he constructs themes that tie science and mathematics together with the arts to become one cohesive perspective on what it means to be human. ...more
Mar 22, 2010 added it
Shelves: childhood
I was assigned to read this in an 8th grade science class and it seemed way above my head, which made me feel stupid, confused, and helpless. The teacher was a young hippie woman, bony and skinny, with long stringy blond hair and the quiet enthusiasm unique to science hippies. I can still picture the bony way she looked in her jeans though I've long forgotten her name. ...more
Aurélien Thomas
Pleasant and quick to read, this is mainly aimed at a very large audience -it's actually based on a docu' TV. That means, of course, that it's very basic and simple. More, so much has been published on the topic since then that, even though it's a precursor in its genre there's not a lot to learn here. A good read none-the-less. ...more
Pecier Decierdo
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Being the inspiration for Carl Sagan's Cosmos, this book and the TV series that it is a companion to are the inspiration to my inspiration. And boy, what an inspiration it is. Very few presenters can match Bronowski's talent for putting a human touch in science, and for showing that there is and should be no wall separating science and the other noble projects of humanity such as art and ethics. ...more
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book feels a bit aged (it's published approx 1972). It does a good job of telling the story of how we got here, but doesn't really want to address the "why" question, despite exuding a boundless optimism that the direction we're going is "right".
May 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
For some reason I'm fascinated by the history of wheat. ...more
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Intellectual rigour that's accessible and stands the test of time - great book ! 2 7 Dec 30, 2019 01:55PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Ascent of Man 2 37 Mar 30, 2012 10:31AM  

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Jacob Bronowski was a British mathematician and biologist of Polish-Jewish origin. He is best remembered as the presenter and writer of the 1973 BBC television documentary series, The Ascent of Man.

In 1950, Bronowski was given the Taung child's fossilized skull and asked to try, using his statistical skills, to combine a measure of the size of the skull's teeth with their shape in order to discrim

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