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In Throwing Fire, 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 to our liking. Our exploitation of these two capabilities figured in the extinction of many species, and may have played a role in the demise of Neanderthals. In historic times we invented catapults, trebuchets, and such flammable liquids as Greek Fire, a napalm-like substance that stuck to whatever it hit and could not be extinguished with water. About 1,000 years ago we invented gunpowder, which led to guns and rockets, enabling us to literally throw fire. Gunpowder weaponry accelerated the rise of empires and the advance of European imperialism. In the 20th century, gunpowder weaponry enabled us to achieve unprecedented mayhem--the most destructive wars of all time. This trend peaked at the end of World War II with the V-2 and atomic bomb, at which point species suicide became possible. Faced with possible extinction should we experience World War III, 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. Alfred W. Crosby is the author of the widely popular and ground-breaking books The Measure of Reality (Cambridge, 1996), America's Forgotten Pandemic (Cambridge, 1990) and Ecological Imperialism (Cambridge, 1986). He taught at the University of Texas, Austin for over 20 years. His books have received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, the Medical Writers Association Prize and been named by the Los Angeles Times as among the best books of the year.Read more
- 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
Reviews & endorsements
"Crosby's new book is another home run, worthy of its predecessors..." The International History ReviewSee more reviews
"Alfred Crosby is deservedly famous as an environmental historian and entertaining writer. In this book he does it again, telling us all about projectiles from the time of our ape origins up to the Space Age. Having read this book, you will understand history, and you will also have the most interesting stories to relate at cocktail parties." Jared M. Diamond
"Alfred Crosby has applied his inimitable wit to two human traits, our capacities for throwing and burning, to track the history of the species. An enjoyable and provocative essay." Stephen Pyne, Arizona State University
"This is a delightful little book...[readers] who are interested in man's interaction with technology will find Crosby's arguments attractive." Air Power History
"Even if experts are likely to find little that is new, they may well benefit by looking at familiar material from the fresh angles that Crosby suggests." Barton C. Hacker Technology and Culture
"Well-written and fascinating throughout, the book is particularly instructive in linking developments in prehistory with those in more recent times." Journal of World History, Jeremy Black, University of Exeter
"Entertaining..." Wisconsin State Journal
"...an impressive and thought provoking work..." -J. Furman Daniel, III, StrategyWorld
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- Date Published: August 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
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