The Ascent of Man

is an excellent book by Jacob Bronowski (isbn 0-7088-2035-2)
As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages.

Evolution is the climbing of a ladder from the simple to the complex by steps, each of which is stable in itself.
The turning point to the spread of agriculture in the Old World was almost certainly the occurrence of two forms of what with a large, full head of seeds. Before 800 BC wheat was not the luxuriant plant it is today. It was merely one of many wild grasses that spread throughout the Middle East. By some genetic accident, the wild wheat crossed with a natural goat grass and formed a fertile hybrid. ... Now we have a beautiful ear of wheat, but one which will never spread in the wind because the ear is too tight to break up.
The Principle of Uncertainty is a bad name. In science or outside it, we are not uncertain, our knowledge is merely confined within a certain tolerance. We should call it the Principle of Tolerance.
When to copper you add an even softer metal, tin, you make an alloy which is harder and more durable than either - bronze. ... Almost any pure material is weak, and many impurities will do to make is stronger.
The making of the sword, like all ancient metallurgy, is surrounded with ritual, and that is for a clear reason. When you have no written language, when you have nothing that can be called a chemical formula, then you must have a precise ceremonial which fixes the sequence of operations so that they are exact and memorable.
To us gold is precious because it is scarce; but to the alchemists, all over the world, gold was precious because it was incorruptible. ... every medicine to fight old age contained gold, metallic gold, as an essential ingredient, and the alchemists urged their patrons to drink from gold cups to prolong life.
We still use for the female the alchemical symbol for copper, that is, what is soft: Venus. And we use for the male the alchemical sign for iron, that is, what is hard: Mars.
When the Bible says three wise men followed a star to Bethlehem, there sounds in the story the echo of an age when wise men were stargazers.
Three thousand years after they were made, the village women of Khuzistan still draw their water ration from the qanats.
The Greeks when they saw the Scythian riders believed the horse and the rider to be one; that is how they invented the legend of the centaur.
Galileo is the creator of the modern scientific method... he really did for the first time what we think of as practical science: build the apparatus, do the experiment, publish the results.
Relativity is the understanding of the world not as events but as relations.
He [Einstein] hated war, and cruelty, and hypocrisy, and above all he hated dogma.
It was because [James] Brindley could not spell the world 'navigator' that workmen who dig trenches or canals are still called 'navvies'.
Always [Leo] Szilard wanted the [atom] bomb to be tested openly before the Japanese and an international audience, so that the Japanese should know its power and should surrender before people died.


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