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Throwing Fire
Projectile Technology through History


  • Date Published: October 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521156318

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About the Authors
  • Historian Alfred W. Crosby looks at hard, accurate throwing and the manipulation of fire as unique human capabilities. Humans began throwing rocks in prehistory and then progressed to javelins, atlatls, bows and arrows. We learned to make fire by friction and used it to cook, drive game, burn out rivals, and alter landscapes. In historic times we invented catapults, trebuchets, and such flammable liquids as Greek Fire. About 1,000 years ago we invented gunpowder, which accelerated the rise of empires and the advance of European imperialism. In the 20th century, gunpowder weaponry enabled us to wage the most destructive wars of all time, peaking at the end of World War II with the V-2 and atomic bomb. Today, we have turned our projectile talents to space travel which may make it possible for our species to migrate to other bodies of our solar system and even other star systems.

    • Covers five million years of the history of throwing fire
    • Explores the role of throwing and fire in species extinctions and enormously destructive wars
    • Brings the story right up to date, looking at how we have turned projectile technology towards space travel
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Within less than 200 pages he tells a coherent tale including both pertinent detail and amusing anecdote covering the period from Neanderthal prehumans to the present.' History Today

    '… well worth reading …' Journal of the Victorian Military Society

    'Throughout the volume he makes a judicious use of evidence from a variety of disciplines - archaeology, anthropology, history, rocket science, physics, chemistry, strategic studies - in a manner that is very accessible to people outside any given branch of scholarly study. In short, the volume is very well written and engaging … this is a systematic, well-written and engaging exploration of the ways in which humans have thrown fire.' Social Anthropology

    '… provocative and highly illuminating.' Ambix

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2010
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521156318
    • length: 218 pages
    • dimensions: 217 x 140 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.26kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Who, Why, and How:
    1. The Pliocene: something new is afoot
    Part II. The First Acceleration, The First Projectiles:
    2. The Pliocene and Pleistocene: 'you are what you throw'
    3. The Pleistocene and Holocene: 'cooking the Earth'
    4. The Upper Paleolithic: 'humanity and other disasters'
    5. From weapon craftsmanship to weapon technology
    Part III. The Second Acceleration: Gunpowder:
    6. The Chinese elixir
    7. Gunpowder as centripetal force
    8. Brown Bess to Big Bertha
    Part IV. The Third Acceleration: Into Extraterrestrial and Subatomic Space:
    9. The V-2 and the bomb
    10. The longest throws
    Part V. The Fourth Acceleration.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • The Great War
  • Author

    Alfred W. Crosby, University of Texas, Austin
    Alfred W. Crosby is Professor Emeritus in American Studies, History, and Geography at the University of Texas, Austin, where he taught for more than 20 years. His previous books include Ecological Imperialism (2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, 2004), America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influence of 1918 (2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, 2003), and The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250–1600 (Cambridge University Press, 1997). The Measure of Reality was chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the 100 most important books of 1997.

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