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The Ascent of Man (5 volume set)
The Ascent of Man
5 volume set
Actor: Dr. Jacob Bronowski
Director: Adrian Malone
Genres: Educational, Documentary
G     2007     11hr 16min

The New York Times called itquite simply, a milestone in programming Now, watch Dr. Jacob Bronowski as he has never been seen before. New video masters have given us the ability to digitally re-master this classic series ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Dr. Jacob Bronowski
Director: Adrian Malone
Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, Science & Technology
Studio: Ambrose Video Publishing, Inc.
Format: DVD
DVD Release Date: 03/01/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 11hr 16min
Number of Discs: 5
SwapaDVD Credits: 5
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 10
MPAA Rating: G (General Audience)

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Movie Reviews

Second to none
Jackie Chan | Mars | 04/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Of the three major British TV series in the past that took a 'big vision' of the development of civilisation in technical and/or intellectual senses: Clarke's 'Civilisation', Bronowski's 'Ascent', and Burke's 'Connections' by far the most conceptually penetrating and diverse was Bronowski's.

I would characterise it like this, with Clarke we get the Aristocrat/Scholar, superb and singular in his erudition and exemplary sensibility, with Burke we get the hip materialist university prof who with wit draws together individuals and science in easy-to-understand argument/narratives that make him look clever. With Bronowski we get depth and intellectual risk taking. I think this has to do with how Bronowski chooses to articulate a sense of oblique contemplation about the events he describes as he explains things - that is for him communicating his points is always tied into synthesising a symbolic language of attributes about humanity's progress with scientific or empirical facts. This comes from a variety of things, Bronowski's early interest in literature (particularly William Blake), his heritage as an eastern European Jew, and his experiences as an assessor of the effects of war both as a scientist and as a Jew.
His book on Blake, although at times meandering and searching, is the most original attempt at contextualising the poet I've ever read - in a way its a critical assessment of Blake and the associative implications of his writing that models Blakean thought to 20thc conclusions as if it were Blake himself writing it.

Bronowski just simply has more depth and a much greater originality of thought and ethical outlook than the other two. He's a real thinker rather than simply an academic and this comes out in his agility with shifting arenas of investigation during the programs.

Put your kids in front of this guy - its the sort of mind our education system should be producing. I certainly would not say that he is a bad presenter, he's just one that demands a different kind of attention than the shlock sound-byte cardboard cut-out presenters you get so much on TV today. You actually have to spend time observing him as he imparts ideas - his mannerisms are crucial to his public performance and if you can find a way to dig it its endlessly inspiring."
Awe-inspiring series at a jaw-dropping price
T. Davis | Seattle, WA | 11/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I can only concur with the many accolades this superb program has received over the years. Viewing it as a teen was a broadening and life-changing experience for me. Through its lens, I became fascinated by the complex interrelationships among many fields of learning and started to view the sciences as both poetry and a grand adventure. I look forward to giving the same experience to my children.

Jacob Bronowski was truly a renaissance man, capable of synthesizing the progress of human understanding and the scientific method into lucid, beautiful essays. "The Ascent of Man" is his magnum opus and, in both written and filmed formats, required reading and viewing for all those who would hope to consider themselves educated. It's not simply a history of scientific thought; it's also a vigorous defense of humanism and a passionate assault on dogma.

That said, the current edition, which I've checked out from the library, looks like it was mastered from mediocre Super8 film. And I'm thoroughly flummoxed by the price. I refuse to pay $130 for a box set of DVDs when the DVD set for Kenneth Clark's "Civilization," a series comparable both in length and in excellence, costs only $55. Why is "The Ascent of Man" available from in Region 2 encoding for only £37? Why overcharge Americans and discourage new generations from exposing themselves to the brilliance of Bronowski?

For that matter, why is Alistair Cooke's wonderful TV series "America" completely unavailable in America yet available in the UK? This makes no sense! Would someone at the BBC get his or her head out of the sand and release these DVDs -- properly remastered, please -- in the US?"
Passionate and Powerful (if you don't read the captions)
efkasper | Mountain View CA USA | 09/06/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

""The Ascent of Man" has been one of my favorite television experiences since it first appeared. Those early showings, however, were from very poor tapes -- thus my off-the-air copies are really bad. It is a true pleasure to see this program available again and so beautifully remastered; the pictures are sharp, and the colors are true and vibrant.

What strikes me so strongly is Dr. Bronowski's passion for what he is saying, and that he truly believes what he is saying is important even to the survival of civilization. The chapter "Knowledge or Certainty" is the most emotionally-involving see Dr. Bronowski scoop up mud from the ground at Auschwitz, and to hear him say that the ashes of his family and friends are in that mud is truly heart-rending.

Yes, there's a lot of "talking head" in these videos, the computer graphics (especially the workstation he uses) are outdated (perhaps "quaint" is a better word), the constant use of masculine pronouns sounds wrong to the 21st-century ear, some of the scientific information presented in the series may have been overcome by more recent data, and (by the way) there is some nudity (but absolutely appropriate in context in which it appears), but there hasn't been anything better produced for television (or any media) regarding the history and importance of the social and scientific development of humanity. The simplicity (but still with high production values) of the production only adds to the great impact this program has.

HOWEVER, the captioning is terrible. If one watches these programs with the captions on (which some non-hearing-impaired viewers may find useful, given Dr. Bronowski's fairly distinctive accent), one sees many - MANY ridiculous errors in the captions, and some of these errors change the meaning of what Dr. Bronowski said. It's obvious that whoever wrote the captions and the producers at Ambrose Video who "checked" (if they did that at all) the captions did not refer to the shooting script or even to the book which accompanied the series.

If it weren't for the caption issue, this series would be as close to a perfect presentation as one could imagine. Turn the captions off and become caught up in Dr. Bronowski's knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm. Leave the captions on and be ready to be annoyed (if you don't really need the captions) or to not be given the correct script (if you do need them)."
Humanity's power of knowledge to empower. As essential as Sa
OverTheMoon | | 09/20/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Ascent of Man (1973) is a 13 part documentary about the history of science by Jacob Bronowski. It inspired Carl Sagan to make Cosmos (1980). The format for The Ascent of Man is based on Kenneth Clark's Civilisation (1969). It is hard not to mention The Ascent of Man without talking a little bit about Cosmos.

The Ascent of Man is widely regarded as a milestone in documentary film making. It maybe the best history of science documentary series ever made. More than 30 years later Bronowski's intensity to describe a world history of science remains unparalleled in the annuals of educational television. It will remain powerful for quite some time to come. The Executive Producer Adrian Malone went on to direct Carl Sagan's Cosmos after it.

The Ascent of Man remains an indispensable series for the human condition. It changes the way people think about themselves, their lives and the world they live in. It is a major conscious raiser. The Ascent of Man also has a bigger impact on the human condition than Cosmos does. While Cosmos treats us as the universe's way of understanding itself, The Ascent of Man is about humanity's hope in getting the right knowledge in the right way, to all individuals across the globe. That knowledge is the scientific method and its results.

The Ascent of Man is also harder hitting than Cosmos in terms of its psychological impact. Cosmos is a gentle going voyage through the universe while The Ascent of Man brings us right into the thick of it with the struggle of mankind through primitive life to liberation through logical thinking.

The Ascent of Man will reveal how life really is and what you need to do about it. Bronowski is also more abrupt than Sagan in how he reveals things. Death is death and sex is sex. Nothing is buttered up. Nothing is omitted. The facts are laid bare for all to see. If you can learn what The Ascent of Man teaches and retain the information (by repeat viewings) you will find yourself a lot more alert to the world than the average person. These are the things that matter so that we can live life. Without them, we simply wouldn't be here to make and watch programs like The Ascent of Man.

The Ascent of Man slowly builds up to directly challenging the ideas of absolutist politics and dogmatic belief structures without offending but by simply being subversive with the application of critical thinking and thus revolutionary in thought and practice from construction of the arch to developing the atom bomb. Bronowski has no time for anything less than the reevaluation of everything humans have learned to date. While Cosmos demystifies, The Ascent of Man upsets stagnation. It is about the history of those who don't strive for improvement when faced with those who do. It is about the harshness of survival but continued existence also needs to incorporate cooperation and the freedom of information.

Episode 1: "Lower than the Angels"
Grunion fish. Adaptation. Early astronomy. Origins of humans in Africa. Early hominoid fossils. Upright walking. Man in action. The evolution of the skull. Fossil record. Hunting cooperation. Migration of humans. Ice ages. Discovery of fire. Laplanders. Cave paintings and consciousness.

Episode 2: "The Harvest of the Seasons"
Last ice age. Bakhtiari nomadic life in Persia. Hybridization of wheat. Jericho. The Israelis. The plough. The lever. The wheel. 2000 BC horseback riding, Mongolian horseback games, the beginning of war and the thieving way of life 1200-1300. The settled man.

Episode 3: "The Grain in the Stone"
The migration of man to America from Asia across the Bering straight by proof of blood groups. The tools of early man. Stone masonry. The conquering of the Inca Empire. The Greeks. Beams and arches. Freemasons. Michelangelo. Watts Towers.

Episode 4: "The Hidden Structure"
Time lapse of the ignition of the match. Fire. Smelting copper and bronze. Japanese sword making. Gold. Male and female symbols and alchemy. Paracelsus. Joseph Priestly. Fundamentals of chemistry. Atomic theory. John Dalton.

Episode 5: "Music of the Spheres"
History of mathematics. Musical notes. Pythagoras theorem. Euclid. Ptolemy. Islam. The astrolabe. The decimal system. Mathematical patterns and symmetry. Geological patterns. Perspective. Uniform motion. Kepler. Fluxions (Calculus).

Episode 6: "The Starry Messenger"
Easter Island. The Pole star and bird migration. Ptolemy. Copernicus. The revolution of revolution. Telescopes. Galileo. Secret Vatican archives (the deep secret stuff is only the size of a wardrobe). The trial of Galileo.

Episode 7: "The Majestic Clockwork"
Newton and gravity. Newton and the color spectrum. The play "Three hours after marriage". Curvature of space. Clocks. Einstein and light. Relativity.

Episode 8: "The Drive for Power"
The revolutions. The Industrial Revolution. The American Revolution. The French Revolution. Automation. Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Paine. The lunar society. The steam engine. Energy in nature. Forms of energy. James Prescott Joule.

Episode 9: "The Ladder of Creation"
Naturalists. Evolution. Voyage of the Beagle. Darwin. Wallace. South American Rainforests. Natural selection. Spontaneous generation hypothesis. Fermentation. Evolutionary evidence in human chemistry. Molecular evidence for evolution. Proto-Earth and the absence of oxygen. Miller-Urey experiment. Leslie Orgel experiments with ice.

Episode 10: "World within World"
Crystals. Salt. Paracelsus. Atomic weight. Mendeleev. Atomic families. JJ Thompon. Divisible atoms. Electrons. Atomic structure. Ernest Rutherford. Electron orbits. Bohr. Working atomic model. Planck. Quantum energy. Moseley. Chadwick. Neutron. Fermi. Transformation of the nucleas. Bishop James Ussher. Hans Bethe. Matter evolves. Nuclear fusion. Rudolf Clausius. Ludwig Boltzmann. Thermodynamics. Plasma physics.

Episode 11: "Knowledge or Certainty"
Blind persons sense of touch and interpretation. Scientific exploration. There is no absolute knowledge. The fact of imperfection. The electromagnetic spectrum. Heinrich Hertz. Radar. Radiowaves. Inferred. William Hershel. White light and colors. Microscopes. Ultraviolet. X-rays. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. Von Laue. Electron microscopes. Areas of uncertainty. Max Born. Werner Heisenberg. Erwin Schrödinger. Louis de broile. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and Max Planck's quantum measurement. Principle of tolerance. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and racism. Nazi germany. All knowledge is limited. Leó Szilárd. Atomic energy. Chain reaction of neutron bombardment. Hiroshima. The Holocaust. Auswitz. The problem of absolute knowledge and despotism. Humanity.

Episode 12: "Generation upon Generation"
Austria. Gregor Mendel. Fertilization. Dominant and recessive. Chromosomes. Linkage. Heredity. Male and female produce only male and female. Burning of Mendel's work. Cell division. Sexual reproduction. Natural selection. James Watson. Francis Crick. DNA. A live birth of a human baby. Bee reproduction. Cloning. Adam and Eve. Sexual behaviour.

Episode 13: "The Long Childhood"
Social solitary. Plasticity of mind. The identity of man. The human brain and functions. Decision making. Utopia. Easter Island. Confirming to adults. The freedom of thought. Dogma. Erasmus. Greek thought. Sir Thomas Moore. Johannes Frobenius. Guardians of integrity. John von Neumann. Game theory. Democracy of the intellect. A scientific society. Knowledge for the individual. Responsibility. The ascent of man is bringing the past into the living of the now.

Extras: "Interview with Sir. David Attenborough"
Sir David Attenborough discusses how he ran the BBC2 to present the audience with scientific programs which started with Kenneth Clark's Civilization. David Attenborough then describes Bronowski (calling him Brono effectionately) recalling the man's character.

Jacob Bronowski died a year after The Ascent of Man aired. It was thus the culmination of the views of one of the smartest men that ever lived before he ceased to be. Bronowski was a genius. Bronowski personally knew many of the scientists he covers in this series. You couldn't hope to have a better mind talking about the nature of mankind. There is a book of the same name as the series by Bronowski. Get this series and get as informed as Bronowski. You will never look at yourself the same way again."