Cultural Evolution, Robert Ornstein, James Burke (excerpt 3)

From Socialism to the Modern Day
excerpt from The Axemaker’s Gift
A Double-Edged History of Human Culture by James Burke & Robert Ornstein
and the intro at

from :

This book is about the people who gave us the world in exchange for our minds . . .

At the close of this century of creativity and discovery, humanists and scientists alike wonder: How could human beings in all their brilliance — those “axemakers” with the genius to invent, lead, inspire, heal, design — have brought the world to the brink of destruction?

The answers can be found in The Axemaker’s Gift, an imaginative and brilliantly informed double-edged history of human culture. James Burke, a leading expert on the interaction of technology and society, and Robert Ornstein, a pioneer in charting the evolution of consciousness, show how the interaction between innovation and the brain has continually reshaped the world and, more important, the way we think.

Using the whole of human history and Western culture as its canvas, this magnificent book shows how, at each major stage of innovation, from the first stone axe to the supercomputers of today’s world, those few with the capacity for sequential analysis (the axemakers) generated technologies that gave them the power with which to control and shape the rest of their community. The other, older kinds of knowledge, born of intuition and the brain’s multiple nonverbal talents, were undervalued and largely ignored. Now, the authors say, the cumulative effects of axemaker technology have brought us to the point where it is possible — and imperative for our survival — to bring back into use those ancient forms of knowledge, still resident in the non-axemaker cultures of the modern world.

Once in an era, a book comes along that changes the way we think about ourselves, our culture, and our future. Brilliant, radical, and extraordinary in its range, The Axemaker’s Gift poses the right questions at a critical moment and begins to find the right answers. It offers a sophisticated and original way to recapture hope for the future.

James Burke is an award-winning television host, author, and educator, best known for his extremely successful PBS series Connections. He has hosted many other PBS series on topics such as the Greenhouse Effect, Renaissance painting and the human brain, as well as the recent Connections (2). He is the author of the best-selling companion books to Connections and other series, including The Day the Universe Changed, and is a regular columnist for Scientific American. He lectures around the world and divides his time between London and France.

Having trained as an engineer and taught physics, Ted Dewan became a professional illustrator and cartoonist in 1988. He has illustrated nonfiction children’s books, including Inside Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures and Inside the Whale and Other Animals, the latter of which won him the Mother Goose Award in 1992. The Axemaker’s Gift is his third illustrated book with Robert Ornstein.

Praise for The Axemaker’s Gift

“The Axemaker’s Gift compresses millions of years of human history into an exciting page-turner. Familiar events emerge from the narrative with sparkling freshness, interpreted by the authors’ keen intelligence and vast knowledge of human behavior. It is a book that defines some of the central issues of our times.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow

“The book is a triumph. I don’t think there’s been anything like it in its combination of erudition of the highest order and of penetrating forward thinking of similar quality.” — Robert Cialdini, author of Influence.

“Their account of the development of human culture is a genuine tour de force. Burke and Ornstein’s description of the emergence of writing – enabling the manipulation and modeling of the world in radical new ways – is an especially brilliant syntheses.” San Francisco Chronicle

“A detailed, original and persuasive reading of cultural and intellectual history.” Los Angeles Times

“This fascinating new book tells a gripping story about how we humans have used our minds throughout history in a way that has led to both our biggest successes and our biggest problems. And the book ends with a provocative suggestion about how modern information technologies may, paradoxically, embody both the ultimate fruits of this approach and the seeds of its transcendence.” — Thomas W. Malone, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“This unusual and readable book traces the history of science and invention from the first axemakers until today. It is about the inseparable consequences of good and evil that come from our inventions.” — Professor James Lovelock, author of Gaia: The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine