|Index||5 reviews in total|
This extraordinary series, thirteen fifty-minute episodes, is one of
television's highest achievements; nearly forty years after its
completion, it has lost little of its luster.
A mathematician whose professional journey included work on the Manhattan Project, later at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, as well as an editor and scholar of the works of William Blake, Dr. Jacob Bronowski was one of the last true Renaissance men.
Presented here is a veritable smörgåsbord of human history cast against scientific advancements and technological innovations that take the viewer around the world, from the dawn of Man to the then-present of 1972. Along the way, Dr. Bronowski stops to examine some of humanity's greatest accomplishments - and lowest depths. One outstanding quality of this remarkable series is that he speaks to the viewer directly and very personally through the lens of the camera; the book of the same name is a virtual transcript of his remarks.
Not simply lectures (nor read from a script), these extemporaneous essays offer Bronowski's "personal view" on a wide range of human, scientific and technological history, presented in both a dramatic and memorable fashion. For example, the episodes are sprinkled with delightful (and sometimes moving) anecdotes of various people, some of whom Bronowski knew and worked with - such as Leo Szilard (who first conceived the concept of sustained nuclear fission - even coining the term "chain reaction" - and who subsequently wrote the letter which Einstein signed that was sent to FDR, bringing about the Manhattan Project) and John von Neumann (one of the great mathematicians of the twentieth century and the "Father of Electronic Computing").
Anyone with even a passing interest in the history of our species and its place amongst the stars, or of science in general, will be astonished, delighted, deeply moved and profoundly affected by "The Ascent of Man." The production value is of the highest order throughout (and, now in its second DVD incarnation, the sound, which was always somewhat problematic, has been greatly improved, matching the often stunning visuals).
(NOTE: Viewers who enjoy this series will also enjoy both the seven-part BBC miniseries "Oppenheimer" (1980) and their production of Michael Frayen's play "Copenhagen" (2002), both available on DVD.)
Highest possible recommendation.
Ascent of Man, written and presented by Jacob Bronowski is probably the
most important and mind-opening piece of celluloid I have ever seen.
The narration is wonderful, his usage of words is very selective,
almost poetic. The series are dealing mathematics, art, physics,
chemistry, history, medicine... and above all humanity. The story of
man and his ascent from an ape to developing first tools and eventually
reaching computer age. There is also a book (same title) containing the
same text, which proves the masterful storytelling of Dr. Bronowski.
Couldn't recommend this more...
"The Ascent of Man" is a wonderful and fascinating account of Man's rise
from ape to computer-maker through many intermediate steps. Jacob
does a fantastic job narrating Man's history through the ages. Bronowski
was a Jew who found refuge in England after the Nazis invaded his native
Poland. Indeed, the most poignant movement in "The Ascent of Man" is when
Bronowski visits a former concentration camp where many of relatives were
done to death. I had tears in my eyes when I watched that episode.
Bronowski's friendship with great nuclear physicists like Leo Szilard
enabled him to present a unique perspective on the nuclear age. For
example, Bronowski reveals that Szilard conceived the atom bomb when he
stopped his car at a stop light and says that is the only part he could
believe - Szilard always ran red lights! Bronowski's account of Darwin
evolution and of Mendel and genetics are the best I have ever
"The Ascent of Man" paints on a huge canvas. What else is suitable for depicting the history of Man? The only criticism I have is that "The Ascent of Man" is rather Eurocentric. It neglects the role of China and India in Man's progress, though it acknowledges the Islamic influence on Europe.
The program was made in 1973, yet it is not outdated. In the last episode, Bronowski prophetically hinted at the coming of the computer age - an age he would not live to see. It is a pity that "The Ascent of Man" is not available on video. Luckily, the book version is still obtainable. Having read it, I strongly recommend it.
Reviewed by Sundar Narayan
Before Sagan's "Cosmos" and before James Burke's "Connections", Jacob
Bronowski brought us a thoughtful examination of the history of mankind
and his achievements. The angle here was to look at how those
achievements effected events and shaped society as a whole.
I saw the series when it first aired, and was fascinated by it, but the series seemed non-linear, and I supposed to a young mind would seem disjointed. I still get some of that feeling when I rewatch episodes of this very good TV documentary.
I'll also add that a lot of factual history is correct, but I think Bronowski, as a social scientist, perhaps social psychologist, draws some of the wrong conclusions. Then again social science, like all sciences, is a field of research branching from the major hard sciences, so in this regard everyone is entitled to an opinion. The only way to nod or shake your head at Bronowski is to double check your own facts to see if he's right or not.
Bronowski takes us from man's humble beginnings in Africa, and shows us our primate ancestor's migratory pattern and how we populated the world today. But the real genius of the program is him showing us how our advances in understanding formed our civilization.
I applaud the program, but disagree with some of Bronowski's conclusions, though for the supermajority of the series, he does have things aright.
If you've seen Sagan or Burke do their thing with their TV series, then have a look at Bronowski's version from the early 70s. Definitely one to see for the scientist history buff in all of us.
This landmark BBC series from 1973 covers, in thirteen episodes,
humanity's scientific and technological discoveries, more or less
chronologically. Its host is Jacob Bronowski, a Polish born, British
based Jewish mathematician. Clearly an influence on Carl Sagan's
Cosmos, this was a sort of an answer to Kenneth Clark's great series
Civilization, which despite its title, did not cover science but only
art (and only Western European art at that).
The short, brilliant Bronowski reminisces about his personal anecdotes with some of the greatest scientists and intellectuals of the 20th century, like Enrico Fermi, John Von Neumann, Leo Szilard and Aldous Huxley. As did Sagan in Cosmos, he puts himself ideologically in the humanist pro science center left (though he is not as strident an atheist as Sagan). Bronowski would die a year later after this was released from a heart attack. At times, during the series, he looks worn and tired (he was in his mid sixties when he filmed this). The shooting of this series in several countries (including places quite remote in the 1970s such as Easter Island and Machu Picchu or as emotionally moving as Auschwitz, where a large portion of his family died) must have been quite strenuous on him.
In 40 years, some of it has dated, naturally (the computer graphics look very crude now, and some of the scientific information has been surpassed by more recent knowledge) but this is still a very worthwhile, informative TV series to watch.
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