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 Recollection of Working with Jacob Bronowski by Bruce Mazlish

WHEN BRONOWSKI first came to the USA as a Carnegie Visiting Professor at MIT, though a celebrity of sorts in England, he was not a name easily recognised in America. That changed drastically in a few months, when he gave a series of public lectures, first published as a full issue of the magazine Nation and then as a book under the title Science and Human Values. I can still remember the excitement that greeted his lectures; in an instant his name was on everyone's lips in Cambridge, Mass. He was immediately now recognised as an extraordinary individual, who was equally at home in the sciences and the humanities, able to speak in a unique way to each community.

By luck, he had been assigned to the office next to me, and after each of his classes he would stop to chat, sometimes for hours, about our common interests. I discovered that Bruno was not only a mathematician and poet of recognised authority, but the author of plays, literary criticisms, and biography. I also learned of his experiences in WWII and his later administrative posts. Truly, here was a renaissance man. Above all, however, I came to realize that he was a humanistic philosopher, whose later book, The Identity of Man has never been sufficiently appreciated (perhaps because it is so readable).

Bruno was much more than an intellectual companion. We became friends. We collaborated on what was for me my first book, The Western Intellectual Tradition, he became the godfather to my son Tony, and he stayed in my home frequently when in America. I have met a number of brilliant men. Bruno was about the only one who, somehow, made you feel after talking to him, that you, too, had been part of a brilliant exchange. I still miss him greatly.

Source: personal communication.

The Ascent of Jacob Bronowski

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Moss. All rights reserved.