Posted by: Dan | October 15, 2008

Lower Than Angels

Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man. Broadcast as a documentary series in the early 1970’s and then published as a book, The Ascent of Man has inspired subsequent documentaries by the likes of Carl Sagan and Sir David Attenborough.

Episode/Chapter One, “Lower than the Angels,” covers the following topics:
Animal adaptation | The human alternative | Beginning in Africa | Fossil evidence | The gift of foresight | Evolution of the head | The mosaic of man | The cultures of the hunter | Across the ice ages | Transhumance cultures: the Lapps | Imagination in cave art.

A quote from the opening of this first chapter:

Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals: so that, unlike them, he is not a figure in the landscape – he is a shaper of the landscape. In body and in mind he is the explorer of nature, the ubiquitous animal, who did not find but has made his home in every continent. […]

So millions of years of evolution have shaped the grunion to fit and sit exactly with the tides. But nature – that is, biological evolution – has not fitted man to any specific environment. On the contrary, by comparison with the grunion he has a rather crude survival kit; and yet – this is the paradox of the human condition – one that fits him to all environments. Among the multitude of animals which scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment but to change it. And that series of inventions, by which man from ages to age has remade his environment is a different kind of evolution – not biological, but cultural evolution. I call that brilliant sequence of cultural peaks The Ascent of Man.

Now, below the fold, “Lower than the angels” in six parts via YouTube…



  1. Great series and great book.


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