The Ascent of Man (1973)
by Jacob Bronowski / BBC
Videos in this documentary
The 13-part series was shot on 16mm film. Executive Producer was Adrian Malone, film directors Dick Gilling, Mick Jackson, David Kennard, David Paterson. Malone and Kennard later emigrated to Hollywood, where they produced Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Jackson followed them, and now directs feature films.
The title alludes to The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin. Over the series' thirteen episodes, Bronowski travelled around the world in order to trace the development of human society through its understanding of science. It was written specifically to complement Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (1969), in which Clark argued that art was a major driving force in cultural evolution. Bronowski wrote in his 1951 book "The Commonsense of Science": "It has been one of the most destructive modern prejudices that art and science are different and somehow incompatible interests". Both series had been commissioned by David Attenborough, then controller of BBC2, although he had moved on by the time The Ascent of Man aired. Quotations were read by actors Roy Dotrice and Joss Ackland.
The book of the series, The Ascent of Man: A Personal View by J. Bronowski, is an almost word-for-word transcript from the original television episodes, diverging from Bronowski's original narration only where the lack of images might make its meaning unclear. A few details of the film version were omitted from the book: notably, Part 11, "Knowledge or Certainty," begins by showing the face of Stefan Borgrajewicz as an elderly man who had known suffering; at the end, after Bronowski shows us the ruins of Hiroshima and the ash-strewn pond of Auschwitz, we see a photograph of a younger man, with the name "BOR-GRAJEWICZ, Stefan" and the number 125558, which may be his official record in the archives of Auschwitz.
Just over a year after the series appeared, Bronowski died of a heart attack aged 66.
1. Lower than the Angels — Evolution of man from proto-ape to 400,000 years ago.
2. The Harvest of the Seasons — Early human migration, agriculture and the first settlements, war.
3. The Grain in the Stone — Tools, development of architecture and sculpture.
4. The Hidden Structure — Fire, metals and alchemy.
5. Music of the Spheres — The language of numbers.
6. The Starry Messenger — Galileo's universe
7. The Majestic Clockwork — Explores Kepler and Newton's laws.
8. The Drive for Power — The Industrial Revolution.
9. The Ladder of Creation — Darwin and Wallace's ideas on the origin of species.
10. World within World — The story of the periodic table.
11. Knowledge or Certainty — There is no absolute knowledge.
12. Generation upon Generation — Cloning of identical forms.
13. The Long Childhood — The commitment of man.