JB: I wrote a book called the Identity of Man. I never saw the cover of the English edition until the book reached me in print. And yet the artist had understood exactly what was in my mind, by putting on the cover a drawing of the brain and the Mona Lisa, one on top of the other A Biographical Sketch
Jacob Bronowski is " not one man but a multitude " said one friend.

Early Days

  • Born in Poland, 18 Jan 1908.
  • Died at East Hampton, Long Island, New York from a heart attack, 1974.
  • Eldest son of Abram Bronowski, owner of a haberdashery firm trading between Poland and London; and Celia Flatto.
  • Fled with family to Germany when Russia occupied Poland in World War 1.
  • Moved to England in 1920, educated at the Central Foundation School, London.
  • " I grew up to be indifferent to the distinction between literature and science, which in my teens were simply two languages for experience that I learned together.
  • "

  • Naturalized Briton from 1933.
  • At Cambridge

  • First class part (i) of the maths tripos 1928 and Senior wrangler (1930). MA, PhD, Cantab, 1933, Jesus College, Cambridge.
  • Edited literary magazine in 1927 whilst at Cambridge called Experiment.
  • Of Cambridge he wrote " All intellectual life was exhilarating and on the move in the six years that I spent there. Quantum physics was transformed by Dirac and the others. Cockcroft split the atom, and Chadwick discovered the neutron. At the same time, literature and painting were made over by the shock of surrealism and the films (and later the radio) grew to an art."
  • Lived in Majorca with Eirlys Roberts, who later set up Which magazines near the home of Graves and Laura Riding in the winter of 1933 - satirized in Graves poem Dream of a Climber from Work in Hand, 1942.
  • Marriage and Career

  • Married Rita Coblentz in 1941, a sculptor, who works under the name Rita Colin. They had four daughters.
  • Senior Math lecturer Hull University College (actually affiliated then to the University of London) 1934 - 42.
  • War Research

  • In 1942 at Reginald Stradlings Military Research Unit at the Home Security Office for the crystallographer J D Bernal, where Zuckerman had his doubts about Bronowski's suitability. Principally working at forecasting the economic effects of bombing.
  • Deputized to British Chiefs of Staff, Mission to Hiroshima, Japan 1945, writing report entitled The Effects of Atomic Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Post War

  • Ministry of Works until 1950 conducting statistical research in what has since become called Operations research.
  • Seconded to UNESCO applying statistics to economics of industry, 1947 - 50.
  • Director National Coal Board research establishment and later Director General Process Development for the Board 1959 - 1963, inventing " Bronowski's Bricks " - a smokeless fuel.
  • Became involved in Paris with the discussions behind the creation of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, near San Diego. He was firstly a non-resident fellow here until moving to California permanently in 1964 as its deputy director.
  • President of British Library Association, 1957 - 58.
  • Carnegie visiting professor of History MIT 1953. It was here that, as the result of a set of newspaper articles for the New York Times, he published Science and Human Values (1953,1958) and later The Western Intellectual Tradition (1960) with Bruce Mazlish.
  • Research Interests

  • Numerous papers in algebraic topology and geometry, mathematical statistics concerned with the nature of scientific thinking and what logical and mechanical systems can do to help explain it; logic of experiment and philosophical relations of science.
  • He was, he said a "mathematician trained in physics, who was taken into the life sciences in middle age by a series of lucky chances"
  • Television

  • Appearing on The Brains Trust regularly with Julian Huxley and A J Ayers from the mid fifties. They would normally deal with six questions in the live broadcast and attempt to be controversial. At this point it appears that Bronowski might have been offered a Professorship at UCL as the Chair of History of Science was vacant, but his 'histrionic qualities' were not appreciated. According to Ayers's biography, some people objected that he was 'too well-known.'
  • Ascent of Man 1974 was a series placing science in the context of human history. It presented the work of early agriculturalists, of Pythagoras, of Newton and Einstein, Galen and Versalius, Darwin and Mendel, Szilard and John von Neumann in humanist terms as turning points in the upward history of human development.

  • Selected Biographical Sources and References

    1. Who's Who in Science Marquis (1969).

    2. The Biographical Dictionary of Scientists: Mathematicians Blond Education 1985.

    3. New Scientist 23 November 1961.

    4. Nature 22 April 1950 - joint article regarding Australopithecus.

    5. World Authors 1950 - 1970 ed. J. Wakeman 1975.

    6. A J Ayer More of my Life Collins, 1984.

    7. Dictionary of National Biography 1971-1980 (1986).

    8. R.P. Graves Robert Graves - The Years with Laura 1926 - 1940 Weidenfeld, 1990.

    9. Martin Seymour Smith Robert Graves His Life and Work Hutchinson 1982.

    10. Robert Reid "Jacob Bronowski - an Appreciation "New Scientist 12 Jan 1978.

    11. Lord Zuckerman From Apes to Warlords Hutchinson 1982.

    The Ascent of Jacob Bronowski

  • Contacts and Acknowledgements
  • A Biographical Sketch
  • Recollections by Family and Friends
  • Extracts from Published Works
  • Bibliography
  • Further References

  • Copyright © 1999 by Stephen Moss. All rights reserved.
    Copyright © 1999 by Stephen Moss.
    All rights reserved.