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The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin

The Descent of Man (1871)

by Charles Darwin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Very interesting to read, and definitely a very important work of science, though nowadays somewhat outdated...

I do very much enjoy and appreciate Darwin's writings. He is very thorough and really delved into his subject. Sometimes this makes the reading a bit difficult because there's so much information, but mainly it greatly strengthens his theories. He also relates his ideas to the findings of other scientists and gives elaborate descriptions of examples, observations, and readings.
I do feel that this book is less 'strong' than his 'On the Origin of Species'.
One important part from a modern perspective is his ideas on inheritance and his theory of pangenesis. As we now know this theory to be incorrect - and scientifically speaking not to be able to explain the issues he discusses - this actually weakens his argument. In 'On the Origin of Species' he leaves the system of inheritance somewhat in the dark. He acknowledges that this is problematic, but this admittance of the problem works better than an incorrect theory - again, from a modern perspective. I do understand that he felt a need to provide this theory, since evolution doesn't work without some theory of inheritance, but the incorrectness of his theories makes this book less convincing.
Furthermore, I found the build-up of this book somewhat less structured than 'On the Origin of Species'. There, Darwin takes you by the hand and leads you along all the evidence he has collected, making for a coherent, logical whole. The problem with 'The Descent of Man', I think, is the fact that he is really writing about two things, namely the origins of the human species and sexual selection. He discusses both ideas pretty much separately, which means the book is less of a whole. It might have been nicer had he split up the subjects and discussed both more extensively in separate volumes.

Aside from these issues, it is still a great pleasure to read, full of interesting facts and great descriptions. ( )
1 vote Britt84 | Jul 4, 2016 |
This is Darwin's final major book with a focus on man. The primary focus is on man's origin in Part I, and sexual selection in Parts II & III. I found the discussion of moral sense and social instincts to be particularly enlightening with his focus on "sympathy" and "habit" as discussed by the Scottish philosophers (cf. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments). Notably he rejects God as the source of conscience. The bulk of the text, however, contains detail examples and discussion of the process of sexual selection. ( )
  jwhenderson | May 6, 2009 |
This is a difficult book to read in some ways. The main one being that it is so dense, the amount of information, observations, and evidence presented to the reader is staggering, all of it with the purpose of supporting the central theories of the book. These being that sexual selection plays a part in evolution as well as natural selection, with the former being a specific mechanism of the latter. The book is about man, and his evolution, but the majority of the examples are from other species, which support homologous principles in human evolution. There are quite a few pictures, which aren't bad. Some readers may be put off by the authors regard of different races of people, which will be considered "non p.c" by many, though it is really just scientific observation, despite it getting some geneticists into trouble to this day. The main problem is that this book is very long, and the evidence in support of the theory is greatly in excess to what would have been sufficient. At the time the theories were not things which were going to be readily accepted, and this is probably why the book goes into so much detail. I would struggle to recommend this book to anyone, as it seems so long and unnecessary, and does not make fascinating reading, as you can tell where a chapter is going when you start reading it, and then it seems like a painful slog to finish it. I have no doubt that this book made good reading when first published, but today it just seems like flogging a dead horse to read it as we don't need convincing of the theories. Maybe an evolutionary sceptic would enjoy it much more than I. ( )
2 vote P_S_Patrick | Apr 15, 2008 |
  miketroll | Feb 23, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Darwinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Birx, H. JamesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bonner, John TylerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cravens, HamiltonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Darwin, FrancisEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dawkins, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Desmond, AdrianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Egozcue, JosepTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ghiselin, MichaelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen, H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heberer, GerhardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hellemans, LudoPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hellemans, LudoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kredel, FritzIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, Robert M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montagu, AshleyPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nicolas, SergeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paparo, FrancoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rovira, JoanForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmidt, HeinrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uddenberg, NilsForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vogel, ChristianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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He who wishes to decide whether man is the modified descendant of some pre-existing form, would probably first enquire whether man varies, however slightly, in bodily structure and in mental faculties; and if so, whether the variations are transmitted to his offspring in accordance with the laws which prevail with the lower animals.
False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140436316, Paperback)

In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin refused to discuss human evolution, believing the subject too “surrounded with prejudices.” He had been reworking his notes since the 1830s, but only with trepidation did he finally publish The Descent of Man in 1871. The book notoriously put apes in our family tree and made the races one family, diversified by “sexual selection”—Darwin’s provocative theory that female choice among competing males leads to diverging racial characteristics. Though less well known than The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man continues to shape the way we think about what it is that makes us uniquely human.

First time in Penguin Classics
Edited by the coauthors of the acclaimed biography Darwin
Includes Introduction, suggestions for further reading, chronology, biographical register, and index
Reproduces the book's original illustrations and Darwin's own notes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:16 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"The Descent of Man" (1871) is among Darwin's most important works, addressing the crucial question of the origins, evolution and racial divergence of mankind. The evidence he presents forces us to question what it is that makes us uniquely human.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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