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 by Philip Morrison

RECALL THE DAYS OF WORLD WAR TWO when a loosely-knit but intense community of science and technology spanned the Atlantic the British on the one shore and the Americans on the other. Thousands of thoughtful persons were earnestly engaged in waging that terrible war, all anxious for the best ideas and the best criticism on how the weapons of war - mostly new weapons - could be used in the search for precious victory.

This community was nourished by a flow of secret information, papers and periodicals which circulated marked 'Secret. Handle with Care'. to be read only by the specific addressee. Yet the community was so large, so varied, so concerned for learning, that in fact this became a periodical literature not dissimilar to that of science in peacetime. Of course, its aims were narrow and grim. But within them the human qualities still appeared. We had the usual flow of articles, the occasional striking reports, scintillating critiques, which stirred everyone to see that something had to be done, some change had to be made, some new hope or some new danger was about to appear. And that was the first time I encountered the mind of Jacob Bronowski. From a little village halfway between Oxford and London, a series of penetrating and iconoclastic papers appeared which caused a helpful buzz of concern and interest throughout that entire community.

The shuttle of war entwined our experiences even more closely. At the end of the war I, for my part, was sent by our government to walk the rusty ruin of Hiroshima, to reflect upon what had happened there, to measure and report. Quite independently, he was sent by the British Government on a similar errand. We didn't encounter each other; neither knew of the other visitor until many months later, when each read the other's report on that galvanising tragedy.

A few years later, again by chance, we each arrived at MIT to spend a visiting year. I fondly remember hearing a brilliant course of lectures which he have us then, celebrating and analysing the city of Florence, the home both of Giotto and of Galileo. From that time on, though our paths were distinct, separated often by continents or by oceans, we were together in the sense that we were communicative friends who from time to time enjoyed each other's company.

Extract from the first Bronowski memorial lecture,
Termites and Telescopes
published in The Listener 23 August 1979, p. 234
Philip Morrison (1915-2005) was a student of Robert Oppenheimer and involved in the Manhattan Project. He was Emeritus Professor of Physics at MIT and wrote regularly for Scientific American.

The Ascent of Jacob Bronowski

Copyright © 1998 by Stephen Moss. All rights reserved.