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Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology through History 1St Edition Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521791588
ISBN-10: 0521791588
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Editorial Reviews


"Crosby's new book is another home run, worthy of its predecessors..." The International History Review

"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

Book Description

In Throwing Fire, historian Alfred W. Crosby looks at hard, accurate throwing and the manipulation of fire as unique human capabilities, allowing us to create simple weapons, atomic bombs, and to venture into space. He examines the effects of throwing fire on life on our planet, including species extinctions, the rise of empires and the advance of European Imperialism, and the peril of destructive wars. Throwing fire, which might make Earth uninhabitable for humans, may make it possible for our species to migrate to other bodies of our solar system and even other star systems.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1St Edition edition (April 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521791588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521791588
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,255,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Crosby's "Throwing Fire" is well written and engaging, and it is a useful overview of the development and use of projectiles from the appearance of hominids in Africa over two million years ago through the launch of Pioneer 10, the first space probe to leave the Solar System. Still, two million years is an awful lot of ground to cover in 200 pages of well-spaced text, and "Throwing Fire" is more of a long essay than a ground-breaking synthesis like Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel."
For my money, the first few chapters are the most interesting parts of the book. Crosby does a good job of summarizing what scientists know about the ability of Australopithicenes and other ancient hominids to throw rocks and other projectiles, the first known appearance of javelins an astonishing 400,000 years ago, the use of fire to "terraform" the planet, and the possible role of the atlatl (spear thrower) in the great extinction of megafauna that took place in the Upper Paleolithic. The chapters that deal with relatively recent historical developments--gunpowder, crossbows, trebuchets, artillery, missiles, and the like--cover a lot of familiar ground with a broad brush and do not offer as many intriguing observations as the first parts of the book.
If this subject interests you and you'd like to read a more elaborate history of weapons development (albiet without Crosby's excellent examination of prehistory), try Robert O'Connell's highly readable "Soul of the Sword: An Illustrated History of Weaponry and Warfare from Prehistory to the Present." If you are intrigued by Crosby's brief discussion of the counterweight trebuchet (an impressive if little known medieval siege weapon), have a look at Fisher & Fisher, "Mysteries of Lost Empires," which includes a chapter about a project to reconstruct a trebuchet (everyone needs a hobby, I guess, and this one can be used to knock down castle walls).
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Format: Hardcover
This book has some similiarities with Jared Diamond's wonderful "Gun's, Germs and Steel", but it is much more focused. Crosby discusses the historical use of projectile weapons by humans (and hominids), and how in a lot of ways, this helps to define humanity. No other animal has shown the ability to throw hard, far, and with accuracy, and this ability might have been crucial to the adoption of a terrestial lifestyle by our ancient ancestors. Throwing stones at predators might just have been key to allowing Australopithecenes to survive. The use of fire is also a key characteristic of humans, and with it humanity has helped shaped the environment to suit our purposes. Moving on from simple stones; through javelins; atlatls; slings; bows; siege engines; and, finally, chemically propelled projectiles (which mix fire and throwing), including satellites that have left our solar system, Crosby shows how developments in projectile technology have helped shaped history as we know it. This book is an interesting read, and is very well footnoted. Those interested in such areas as general anthropology, historical science and military science might also find book quite enjoyable.
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Format: Hardcover
‘Throwing Fire’ is a somewhat curious and unusual book by a serious author. In 200 pages it covers such seemingly diverse subjects as throwing spears and the hazards of living in space. But Professor Crosby shows how they are linked.
Crosby takes as his starting point the fact that human beings are by far the best throwers in the animal kingdom. This fact had profound implications for our species for it meant we could kill at a distance.
After an introduction dealing with the implications of the fact that we walk on two feet thus freeing up our hands the book considers four “accelerations”.
The first takes us from the atlatl and bow and arrow through cooking and firestick farming to the trebuchet and Greek fire.
The second deals with gunpowder, cannon and firearms.
The third covers the V-2 and the atomic bomb.
The fourth covers ourselves “throwing” ourselves into outer space.
I had previously read Crosby’s ‘The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society 1250-1600’, a work I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in the question of “Why the West?” or indeed to anyone interested in history in general. While ‘Measure’ reads like the work of a professor ‘Throwing’ reads like the script of a TV documentary. The style is much more informal, almost chatty.
The casual style of writing is matched by a casual style in editing e.g. on page 140 references to 1918 should clearly read 1914 and on page 161 the author mixes up miles and kilometres not once but twice.
I found ‘Throwing Fire’ an interesting and enjoyable read but not a particularly profound one.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Throwing Fire by Alfred W. Crosby is a history of the human use of projectiles that covers the whole spectrum, from stones to space ships. Throwing projectiles was a key skill for the survival of our species, it played an important role in shaping what we have become, but it is increasingly a threat to the survival of our species, and many others.

Long ago, in the good old days, our hominid ancestors were tree-dwellers, swinging from branch to branch, and dining on nuts, fruit, lizards, insects, and other dainty delicacies. The whole world was happy. But cooler weather arrived, shrank the jungles, and expanded the grasslands. Life in the trees had no future. We got an eviction notice, became ground-dwellers, and learned to walk upright. This was a crucial event in our history, step one on the Human Trail.

We were comically unprepared for living on the ground. We didn't have claws, big teeth, horns, or great speed. On two legs, we couldn't outrun a bunny, and we frequently fell down. But walking upright turned our front feet into hands. We compensated for our shortcomings by learning how to throw things, like rocks, sticks, and spears. Any human, male or female, older than eight years old can throw projectiles farther and more accurately than any other species. This ability gave us the power to effect change from a distance. Well-thrown projectiles could drive away annoying predators or kill a plump bunny for dinner.

We often forget that rocks are lethal weapons, because we have far better killing tools today. But a few hundred years ago, Europeans visiting Samoa got a painful lesson in the superb stone-throwing skills of the natives. Of the 61 men sent ashore, 12 were killed by well-thrown rocks.
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