Aside from the fascinating (and mostly accurate) accounts of natural and sexual selection, confirmed decades later by new discoveries in the fossil record and the advent of DNA, this volume presents a fascinating letter from Darwin to Wallace confirming what a superficial examination of species makes apparent: that Darwin was well aware that 'blending' inheritance couldn't be right, and that hereditary traits must be passed on by some particulate process. This is obvious when we realise that our parents are male and female, but we are not born intermediate hermaphrodites. In this sense, and in so many others, Darwin was well ahead of his time.
It is naive, as Dawkins points out in his introduction, to consider the views of this Victorian gentleman (politically conservative, scientifically radical) through post-Nazi hindsight. Contrary to popular belief, Darwinism does not excuse mass extermination in pursuit of 'perfection'; indeed, lengthy passages of this book are given over to emphasising that 'savage' races (an uncontroversial label at the time, whose meaning has since drifted) are not separate species or sub-human. Darwin's limited recommendations for improving ourselves must be considered with this qualification; let us not forget that at the time such views were entirely acceptable.
Darwin accounts for racial differences through sexual selection: superficial but diverse surface differences masking underlyingly highly similar organisms. Skip forward 130 years, and Dawkins's introduction also reminds us that DNA has re-affirmed this and led many scientists to advocate the abandonment of 'race' as a biological concept; through humanity passing through what Dawkins calls an "evolutionary bottleneck" in the last few thousand years, there is more genetic difference between any two groups of chimpanzees than there is between any of the human 'races'.
A great book, which can be dipped into through the highly-entertaining index. Darwin's knowledge of natural history was phenomenal; here we can read at length and leisure the amazing range of creatures' adaptive behaviours, with a plausible explanation of how they share a common ancestry.
Wonderful, in each sense of the word.