THE ASCENT OF MAN by Jacob Bronowski
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Another of those beautifully produced BBC lecture courses that have been bringing Western culture -- a dazzling and welcome shock -- to tribalized TV audiences, translated into a handsome and substantial text. The topic, as in the earlier series (Cooke's America, Clark's Civilisation), is bogglingly big: taking off from Darwin's title The Descent of Man, Bronowski goes ahead to chronicle the development of the sciences and allied, imaginative and uniquely human activities by which man managed to obscure and transcend his bestial ancestry. The accomplishment tends to be undervalued in the present atmosphere of ecological guilt, and particularly in books pitched at this educated lay level; but Bronowski goes a long way toward redeeming the traditional Crown-of-Creation attitude, with a stunning and varied range of information, and in a style so suavely entertaining and well ordered that one doesn't immediately appreciate how many recent, even in some cases radical, assumptions about the nature of man and science it incorporates. For example, the broadened consideration of cultural and psychological factors, such as the analytic implications of architecture, and the importance of techniques as analogues; and a conception of historical process that readmits such shady figures as Paracelsus and mundane pursuits as farming. Beginning with the bare hands and ready, three-pound brain of the earliest hominids, he traces the gradual, self-accelerating profusion of means -- tools, techniques, theories -- which have extended our intellectual grasp now to the point of encompassing intellect itself.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1974
Publisher: Little, Brown