Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) lived through what he described as 'the two great catastrophes of the twentieth century: the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945', and yet the keynote of his astonishingly rich and varied life and work was an enduring optimism. Bronowski was a professional scientist, scientific administrator, poet, philosopher, dramatist and television and radio personality, possessing an energy and versatility that make him a rare figure in our cultural history. His final achievement, the groundbreaking television series The Ascent of Man, first shown in 1973, influenced and inspired millions of ordinary people by bringing an awareness of human evolution and the adventure of science into their homes. Anthony James describes his own journeys to key locations in Bronowski's television series The Ascent of Man, from Auschwitz, a monument to human depravity that has haunted the conscience of contemporary society, to Iceland, where democracy in northern Europe was born more than a thousand years ago. Bronowski would not have been surprised by our dilemmas today, but he would have insisted that confidence in our ascent as a species is a far greater force than the cynical destructiveness of politicians. Although human beings are inevitably fallible, the pursuit of knowledge is, in Bronowski's philosophy, an adventure: in his own words a 'happy passion'.
Keywords: Bronowski, science, philosophy, drama, poetry, biography, culture, Ascent of Man, evolution, Auschwitz, politics, knowledge