The Best Episodes of The Ascent of Man
Last Updated: May 29, 2019
Dr Bronowski's magnificent thirteen-part BBC television series The Ascent of Man traces our rise both as a species and as moulders of our own environment and future. It covers the history of science, but of science in the broadest terms. Invention from the flint tool to geometry, from the arch to the theory of relativity, are shown to be expressions of man's specific ability to understand nature, to control it, not to be controlled by it.
#1 - The Long Childhood
Season 1 - Episode 13
In this final program Bronowski - poet, playwright, mathematician, philosopher - draws together many threads of the series. He takes stock of man's complex, sometimes precarious, ascent. Argues that man's growth to self-knowledge is the longest childhood of all.
#2 - Lower Than the Angels
Season 1 - Episode 1
The following episodes examine intellectual, cultural, and scientific breakthroughs in man's four-million-year evolution. Shows importance of new ideas and how they transcend other historical events in their cumulative, irreversible effects. Written-narrated by Jacob Bronowski.
#3 - Generation Upon Generation
Season 1 - Episode 12
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.
#4 - World Within World
Season 1 - Episode 10
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.
#5 - Music of the Spheres
Season 1 - Episode 5
Program covers the evolution of math. Pythagoras, father of Greek math, considered numbers the language of nature. Follows spread of Greek ideas through the Islamic Empire to Moorish Spain and Renaissance Europe. Explores the alliance of math to music, astronomy, and painting.
#6 - The Ladder of Creation
Season 1 - Episode 9
From the countryside of Wales to the jungles of the Amazon, 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.
#7 - The Grain in the Stone
Season 1 - Episode 3
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.
#8 - The Hidden Structure
Season 1 - Episode 4
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.
#9 - The Majestic Clockwork
Season 1 - Episode 7
Newton and Einstein, the two giants of physics, imposed great systems of order on the world. This production illustrates the revolution that occurred when Einstein's theory of relativity turned Newton's elegant description of the universe inside out.
#10 - The Harvest of the Seasons
Season 1 - Episode 2
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.
#11 - The Drive for Power
Season 1 - Episode 8
Program covers the industrial and political revolutions of the 18th 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.
#12 - The Starry Messenger
Season 1 - Episode 6
Studies man's attempts to map the forces which move the planets. The static nature of South American astronomy is contrasted with ideas of Renaissance Europe. Traces the origins of the scientific revolution in the conflict between truth and dogma, symbolized by the trial of Galileo.
#13 - Knowledge or Certainty
Season 1 - Episode 11
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 Gottingen University with the inhumanities of Auschwitz.