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.