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What distinguishes humans from other living beings? How did the human race evolve from nomadic hunter-gatherers to the urbanised social creatures we are today? Based on the classic television series of the same name, The Ascent of Man answers these immense questions. In Jacob Bronowski’s inspiring account, the journey of man leads ever upward, from flint tools to the double helix. This is not simply a ‘history of science’, for the sculptures of Henry Moore and the calculations of Newton belong to the same human instinct. The result is a unique, enthralling history of what Bronowski calls ‘the whole adventure of man’. This lavishly illustrated edition features a new foreword by Melvyn Bragg.
All other animals adapt themselves to their environments; humans alone shape the environment to their own needs. Our earliest ancestors harnessed fire, used tools and developed language, all of which were essential for hunting. With the agricultural revolution came the crucial decision to abandon nomadic life, and settle and farm. Another revolution was horse riding, which ‘must have been as shocking in its day as the invention of the flying machine’.
Bronowski reveals the human idiosyncrasies that have shaped history: Galileo’s naivety about the motives of the Church, Darwin’s agonised conscience and Mendeleev’s ‘passion for the elements’. A gifted writer, Bronowski uses Hamlet to illustrate the importance of the decision-making process in humans, compares a beehive to a ‘totalitarian paradise’, and explains why Newton ‘was like the Old Testament God; it is Einstein who is the New Testament figure’. Nobody will read this book without a new-found awe for the scientists, artists and innovators who have shaped our world.
This is a journey through millennia, from cave paintings to the model of DNA, each chapter addressing a different aspect of human endeavour. In ‘The Hidden Structure’, we follow ‘the firewalker’s path’ from the earliest uses of precious metals, through alchemical theories to the isolation of oxygen and the discovery of the atom. The final chapter, ‘The Long Childhood’, opens at the oldest seat of democracy in Northern Europe: a natural ampitheatre where the Althing of Iceland once met. A sense of justice is, astonishingly enough, part of our unique biological equipment, alongside speech, learning and even opposable thumbs.
This Folio Society edition is richly illustrated with photographs that bring the human story to life. They include spectacular aerial views of landscapes and buildings, from the South Omo Valley in Ethiopia to Watts Towers in Los Angeles, built out of scrap metal by an Italian immigrant. A bronze cauldron from the Shang dynasty; a drawing of a cactus finch; a plexiglass model of a uranium atom: all illustrate the variety of human ingenuity. Author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg has written a new foreword for this edition. Paying tribute to the effectiveness and charm of Bronowski’s approach, Bragg praises him as a champion of popular science. ‘It is an inspiring account as befits an ascent, and all the way up the views are intriguing, surprising and often breathtaking.’