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Portrait of Jacob Bronowski

Jacob Bronowski

Mathematician and Historian
January 18, 1908 – August 22, 1974

Jacob Bronowski was a British mathematician and historian. He is best known for developing a humanistic approach to science, and as the presenter and writer of the thirteen-part 1973 BBC television documentary series, and accompanying book, The Ascent of Man, which led to his regard as one of the world's most celebrated intellectuals.

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Cover image for The Ascent of Man 01: Lower Than The Angels

The Ascent of Man 01: Lower Than The Angels

Jacob Bronowski begins his series by examining intellectual, cultural, and scientific breakthroughs in man's four-million-year evolution, and demonstrates the importance of new ideas and how they transcend other historical events in their cumulative, irreversible effects.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 02: The Harvest of the Seasons

The Ascent of Man 02: The Harvest of the Seasons

In the long spring following the Ice Ages man develops agriculture and domesticates animals, imposing his will on wild wheat and horses. With the Neolithic cultivators come the mounted Nomads, the predators, and the roots of human warfare. Shot largely in central Iran.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 03: The Grain in the Stone

The Ascent of Man 03: The Grain in the Stone

Man splits a stone and reassembles the pieces to build a wall, a cathedral, a city. This program is about man, the architect, builder, and sculptor. Shots of Greek temples of Paestum, cathedrals of medieval France, Inca cities of Peru juxtaposed with shots of modern cities.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 04: The Hidden Structure

The Ascent of Man 04: The Hidden Structure

From ancient Oriental metallurgy, through mystical alchemy this program traces the roots of chemistry. Shang bronze craftsmen and Samurai sword smiths are the starting point for a journey leading from medieval Europe to Dalton's atomic theory and our modern knowledge of the elements.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 05: Music of the Spheres

The Ascent of Man 05: Music of the Spheres

In this episode, Jacob Bronowski covers the evolution of math. Pythagoras, father of Greek math, considered numbers the language of nature. We follow the spread of Greek ideas through the Islamic Empire to Moorish Spain and Renaissance Europe, and explore the alliance of math to music, astronomy, and painting.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 06: The Starry Messenger

The Ascent of Man 06: The Starry Messenger

A closer look at humanity's attempts to map the forces which move the planets. The static nature of South American astronomy is contrasted with ideas of Renaissance Europe. Tracing the origins of the scientific revolution in the conflict between truth and dogma, symbolized by the trial of Galileo.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 07: The Majestic Clockwork

The Ascent of Man 07: The Majestic Clockwork

Newton and Einstein, the two giants of physics, imposed great systems of order on the world. This episode illustrates the revolution that occurred when Einstein's theory of relativity turned Newton's elegant description of the universe inside out.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 08: The Drive for Power

The Ascent of Man 08: The Drive for Power

This episode focuses on the industrial and political revolutions of the 18thh century. Forces of nature were harnessed and the basics of political power shifted. Bronowski argues that in man's progress, the Industrial Revolution was a step forward as significant as the Renaissance.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 09: The Ladder of Creation

The Ascent of Man 09: The Ladder of Creation

From the countryside of Wales to the jungles of the Amazon, Jacob Bronowski follows the stories of Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin who had the same idea simultaneously—evolution by natural selection. Their ideas helped others to probe the nature and origins of life.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 10: World Within World

The Ascent of Man 10: World Within World

In the vaults of ancient Polish salt mines Bronowski embarks on a journey to the hidden world inside the atom. He traces the history of the men and the ideas that made 20th century physics the greatest achievement of the human imagination.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 11: Knowledge or Certainty

The Ascent of Man 11: Knowledge or Certainty

Bronowski's statement on information and responsibility's a moral dilemma to scientists. Principle of certainty in physics applies to all knowledge. Examines implications of bombing Japan. Contrasts humanist tradition of Göttingen University with the inhumanities of Auschwitz.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 12: Generation Upon Generation

The Ascent of Man 12: Generation Upon Generation

Math and physics brought revolution to man's ideas of life. From Mendel's work to discoveries of today, Bronowski unravels complex code of human inheritance. Sees sex as an instrument of evolution that makes every human unique yet breeds care between individuals.

Cover image for The Ascent of Man 13: The Long Childhood

The Ascent of Man 13: The Long Childhood

In this final episode, Bronowski—poet, playwright, mathematician, philosopher—draws together many threads of the series. He takes stock of man's complex, sometimes precarious, ascent, and argues that man's growth to self-knowledge is the longest childhood of all.