Crosby, Alfred W. Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology through History.

NY: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

If you’re expecting a straight military history of distance-weapons systems, this isn’t it. But if you’re into the anthropology and sociology of human control of the environment, this is a fascinating study of one of the key elements in what makes homo sapiens the success he is.The ability to throw a rock — to effect change in the world at a distance, essentially — is dependent on bipedalism, so that’s where Crosby, an expert in economic and environmental history, starts his story. But the act of throwing something is a much more complex mental and biological operation than you would ever expect. Crosby calls this the “first acceleration.” The second key human discovery — the second acceleration — is the ability to create fire, which is so basic to our very natures, it may now have developed a genetic component. And that, of course, leads directly to gunpowder and its combustible successors. The third acceleration is much more recent: The ability to launch a controlled rocket, either as a bomb or as a vehicle into space. The author approaches each of these stages in our cultural evolution with wit and sagacity and plenty of references. (My reading list after digesting this book has grown somewhat.) And it’s worth noting that the same human ability may make it possible for us either to destroy the world or to escape from it. This remarkable volume is slightly less than 200 pages but you’ll be thinking about the arguments it elucidates for some time.

Published in: on 4 January 2010 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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