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The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex Paperback – 6 Feb 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 664 pages
  • Publisher: Gibson Square Books Ltd; New edition edition (6 Feb 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1903933269
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903933268
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,692,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in 1809 and was educated at Shrewsbury School, Edinburgh University and Christ's College Cambridge. He took his degree in 1831 and in the same year embarked on a five-year voyage on HMS Beagle as a companion to the captain; the purpose of the voyage was to chart the coasts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, and to carry a chain of chronometric readings round the world.

While he was away some of his letters on scientific matters were privately published, and on his return he at once took his place among the leading men of science. In 1839 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Most of the rest of his life was occupied in publishing the findings of the voyage and in documenting his theory of the transmutation of species. On the origin of species by means of natural selection appeared in 1859.

Darwin spent many years with his wife - his cousin Emma Wedgwood, whom he had married in 1839 - and their children at Down House in Kent. He died in 1882, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

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"[This work] is second only in importance to the Origin of Species . . . among Darwin's works and the book in which he uses the word evolution for the first time."--Natural History

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Author

'I find an addictive fascination in his Victorian prose style, quite apart from the feeling one gets of having been ushered into the presence of one of the great minds of all time.' Richard Dawkins

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First Sentence
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; such as that of the transmission of characters to the same age or sex. Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By hbw VINE VOICE on 26 Aug 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
(This review relates to the Penguin Classics Edition)

Gosh, this is a long book.

There are three sections. Sections I and III look at the evidence for the development of humans from more primitive creatures and sexual selection in humans. Section II (about half the book) is devoted to sexual selection in everything from insects to mammals.

So is it worth reading? In their introduction, Adrian Desmond and James Moore suggest that it forms the second volume of a trilogy (with On the Origin of Species and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals) and that you really need to read all three to understand Darwinism as Darwin saw it. Part of this is to do with Darwin's two big ideas: natural selection and sexual selection. The other part is about the interrelationship of Darwin's science with the worldview of a Victorian country gentleman and the politics of the day; not least the politics of race, which is explored more thoroughly in Desmond and Moore's recent Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins.

If you're serious about Darwin and have read "On the Origin of Species", I would recommend tackling this, although you might be forgiven for not ploughing through the whole of Section II. As other reviewers have mentioned, Darwin's language, his views on race and gender and his ideas on the "improvement" of the human race can make uncomfortable reading in the 21st century.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Mar 2004
Format: Paperback
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.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Finnbass on 21 May 2003
Format: Paperback
A seminal work, such as this, deserves to be read as it represents original, source material for ideas that rocked the world. Unfortunately Darwin is often criticised by people who may never have accessed his original work but take a political and chronologically privileged dislike to how this important source material may, or may not, have been subsequently interpreted. I refer of course to the above review.
Such works as this need to be read with an appreciation of the context in which they were written i.e. a long time ago and within an entirely different world view. Cheap, agenda-ridden, pseudo-intellectual critisism made with the benefit of hindsight and taking a twenty-first century perspective will hopefully not dissuade people from accessing fantastic source material such as this and making their own minds up. Read it, and make your own mind up (before somebody else does it for you).
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By "andrew9344" on 14 April 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is brilliant. However, you must read it in it's own time. Darwin wrote this at a time when people saw humans as being at the top of the ladder that was evolution. This was also a time when Europeans thought themselves to be superior to the rest of the world. This seemed a natural conclusions since they were more advanced, richer and had conquered almost the whole world.
This book is beutifull. Darwin had obviously found mass condemnation from The Origin Of Species,. but also mass acceptance by many, especially from the scientific community. This book is written by a true scientist, who backs up his arguments with as much evidence as possible, but without going overboard. His target audience is not the ignorant who refuse to accept evolution regardless of the available evidence. When read in context, and freed from the fear of mass condemnation which haunted Darwin throughout The Origin Of Species we are given a chance to really see Darwin's genius. When reading this I got the impression that Darwin, freed from the narrow minded ideas of his own time, and given a slight push, could have taken the theory of evolution and advanced it to it's modern state.
It is true that Darwin's theory has been twisted as a justification of the holocaust, and other racial crimes. However, it must be pointed out that Evolution is not alone, many theories can be twisted to justify evil. Also, there is another way of looking at the ladder theory of evolution, which is the way in which the British empire took it. The British helped out other peoples throughout the world, and the plan at least was to stand them up on their own two feet.
There is a very interesting point in thie edition. Karl Marx loved the idea of survival of the fittest.
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