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on 29 August 2016
Well written. Feels like On the Origin of Species volume two. There is more focus on sexual selection than the title suggests, although human evolution is still covered in great depth.
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on 18 December 2017
Part of a series of Darwin’s books published by the Folio Society in recent years.
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on 26 November 2016
Awesome!!!
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VINE VOICEon 26 August 2009
(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.

In addition to the text and original black and white illustrations, there is an excellent introduction, a comprehensive index and the occasional foreign language quotations are given in both the original and an English translation.
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on 26 October 2014
Let's put it his way, Richard Dawkins loves Darwin, as did Karl Marx and Marx wrote Engels regarding his wife's inhertence, of which he couldn't wait to get his hsnds on. Bath? The poor woman and when last has anyone seen Richard Dawkins with a woman? Wendy Wright doesn't count, she merely exposed his ass for thebliar he is. Ausrtolepithicus in deed... the fossil record? My point though is women are NOT as intelligent as men FACT,

I will live and die for them regardless, as intelligence does not define human quality.
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on 3 August 2016
You would not expect in 2016 to get a book typed on a typewriter or the original text (which was typed on a typewriter) was photocopied and put together with a hardcover. Disappointing as you struggle to read through the mono-spaced font and double spacing after periods etc. (and that's for non-dyslexic users). Amazon must revise its policies to insist book sellers should mention the type of paper and font and give much more detail to customers to help them make an informed decision.
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on 14 October 2010
This book is heavily, in its first part, speaking of a lot more than genetics, and certainly not of sexual preferences in that field. In fact this first part tries to show and discuss the superiority of the human species over all other animal species. Since I am not a geneticist I will concentrate on this first part.

The first remark I will make here is that he overuses the terms "barbaric", "barbarian", "savage", "primitive" and "primeval", this last one being the least reprehensible. This dates the book as a 19th century book. But when we have said that, we can overlook that stylistic element even when it is systematically opposed to "civilized" meaning the western world of the time.

He fundamentally reduces everything to genetics. Everything is explained with a "natural" argumentation that is to say an argumentation that refers to genetic rules and functioning. His discussion of rudimentary organs, organs that are evolving out of an organism (wisdom teeth, coccyx, etc), and nascent organs, organs that are appearing and have a great use, seems to lead to the fact that the non-use of an organ makes it disappear and a systematic action over several generations is bringing in the organ necessary to do it. In fact the rudiments are typically organs that are not mutating out but regressing because of the absence of use and what he calls nascent organs are in fact the development of some muscles or organs that are there and are used intensively in some environments. His best example is the thin legs of some Amazonian tribes whose men spend their life sitting in canoes. When compared with the legs of a long distance runner we could say the latter has nascent leg muscles and the former rudimentary leg muscles. Ut us not because we eat fat that we develop a gall bladder, but exactly the reverse. The function does not produce the organ but the organ produces the function. (Nothing to see with Montaigne's discussing justice)

This idea is essential when he starts dealing with the mental capabilities, moral qualities and linguistic abilities of man. He says over and over again that those things are acquired in some situations in which human beings live or have to live. But yet he seems to more or less imply that some moral qualities like love and sympathy could be the human development of an animal instinct: human love, in spite of what he may say, has little to do with the "love" (it looks more like dependence) of a dog for his master.

But his approach of language is absolutely and amazingly simplistic. First he speaks of the linguistic abilities of some monkeys but does not analyze them. Then he speaks of man inventing language from his attempt to imitate nature, hence reducing the linguistic ability to onomatopoeias. And then he moves to nothing but the great variety of consonants and vowels. But he does not question why man and no other "speaking" animal has developed those numerous consonants and vowels, and the ability to associate them, and what's more the possibility to conceive words by associating a cluster of sounds to a meaning, and then the ability to build sentences by building up functions that have to come from the social discursive situation in which man is always living.

It is this reduction of man's "mental powers" as he says that more or less prevent him from understanding what moral values and empathy and many other human feelings can be and he never gets close to the real nature of thought. His discarding the belief in god, or any superior being (he does not take into account superior forces) as some kind of unacceptable fancy of some human communities is typical of his inability to understand that the conceptual power he hints at from time to time is the way man will try to explain the world and language will be the tool for that explanation to be built and then to be shared and then to be honored and then to be ritualistically reinforced. God or no god is not the question. Even the canonical Buddhists who do not believe in god believe in the existence of a superior force in nature that governs us entirely because we are part of nature.

Thus he can conclude on this subject: "the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind." This is passé, outdated and it does not understand that articulated language and articulated language only gives man and man only the capability to conceptualize and hence to develop a thought that no other animal can develop.
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on 26 August 2016
When Charles Darwin in 1859 finally made public his theory of evolution by natural selection in “On the Origin of Species”, he avoided writing about human evolution, except for saying that “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.”

But by the early 1870s he felt confident enough to openly discuss the evolution of humans from animals. He did this in “The Descent of Man” (1871) and in “The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872).

The full title of this book is “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex”, and this shows the double purpose that Darwin had in writing it. Firstly, he produces evidence to show that humans are the “modified descendants” of animal ancestors. Secondly, he explains the importance of sexual selection in nature, as an important adjunct to his theory of natural selection.

Alfred Russel Wallace had come up with the idea of natural selection independently of Darwin, although he had done so, as he himself acknowledged, twenty years after Darwin first thought of the idea. Wallace had become a friend and scientific colleague of Darwin, but now he had let the side down by ending up believing in spiritualism and arguing that the human brain/mind could not have evolved. Darwin, on the other hand, stuck to his guns and showed how even the “higher” intellectual and moral capacities of humans could have arisen as a result of evolution.

Wallace and Darwin also disagreed over sexual selection. Wallace did not agree that it was the important factor that Darwin asserted it was. Darwin may have taken his argument too far when he claimed that sexual selection was the prime factor in producing “racial” differences in humans, but overall his case for sexual selection is well made in this book.

I am a great fan of Charles Darwin, but not an uncritical one. One problem is that, despite having developed the revolutionary (and correct) theory of natural selection as the mechanism for evolutionary change, Darwin mistakenly allowed a subsidiary role for the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This book is unfortunately full of examples of this latter idea.

I also have to point out that there are some things in this book that make for uncomfortable reading. Here I am talking about some of Darwin’s views on class, race, nationality and gender, which reflect the prejudices of a rich, white, European male of his time.

We can’t hold Darwin responsible for the worst excesses of later eugenicists or for all those various attempts by Social Darwinists of one sort or another to justify the horrible inequalities inherent in the capitalist system by claiming that those inequalities are “natural”. But in this book we can see that Darwin himself was influenced by eugenic theories and that he himself held some of the views that would later be called “Social Darwinism”.

For example, it is embarrassing to read that Darwin thought that men had “greater intellectual vigour and power of invention” than women. And, in probably the worst passage that I’ve ever read by Darwin, he favourably quotes another writer’s dreadful racist stereotype of the Irish.

On the other hand, Darwin was always a strong opponent of slavery, and he rightly argued that all humans, whatever their “race”, belonged to a single species and were descended from a single common ancestor. (Some of the worst racists of the time were claiming that the “superior” Europeans and the “inferior” Africans and other races were descended from separate species.)

Stephen Jay Gould summed up Darwin as being “radical in his scientific ideas, liberal in his political and social views, and conservative in personal lifestyle...”

Darwin’s ideas have given us a real understanding of nature. But we must not fall into the trap of thinking that social problems and inequalities can also be explained by Darwinism.

Phil Webster.
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on 27 August 2016
When Charles Darwin in 1859 finally made public his theory of evolution by natural selection in “On the Origin of Species”, he avoided writing about human evolution, except for saying that “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.”

But by the early 1870s he felt confident enough to openly discuss the evolution of humans from animals. He did this in “The Descent of Man” (1871) and in “The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872).

The full title of this book is “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex”, and this shows the double purpose that Darwin had in writing it. Firstly, he produces evidence to show that humans are the “modified descendants” of animal ancestors. Secondly, he explains the importance of sexual selection in nature, as an important adjunct to his theory of natural selection.

Alfred Russel Wallace had come up with the idea of natural selection independently of Darwin, although he had done so, as he himself acknowledged, twenty years after Darwin first thought of the idea. Wallace had become a friend and scientific colleague of Darwin, but now he had let the side down by ending up believing in spiritualism and arguing that the human brain/mind could not have evolved. Darwin, on the other hand, stuck to his guns and showed how even the “higher” intellectual and moral capacities of humans could have arisen as a result of evolution.

Wallace and Darwin also disagreed over sexual selection. Wallace did not agree that it was the important factor that Darwin asserted it was. Darwin may have taken his argument too far when he claimed that sexual selection was the prime factor in producing “racial” differences in humans, but overall his case for sexual selection is well made in this book.

I am a great fan of Charles Darwin, but not an uncritical one. One problem is that, despite having developed the revolutionary (and correct) theory of natural selection as the mechanism for evolutionary change, Darwin mistakenly allowed a subsidiary role for the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This book is unfortunately full of examples of this latter idea.

I also have to point out that there are some things in this book that make for uncomfortable reading. Here I am talking about some of Darwin’s views on class, race, nationality and gender, which reflect the prejudices of a rich, white, European male of his time.

We can’t hold Darwin responsible for the worst excesses of later eugenicists or for all those various attempts by Social Darwinists of one sort or another to justify the horrible inequalities inherent in the capitalist system by claiming that those inequalities are “natural”. But in this book we can see that Darwin himself was influenced by eugenic theories and that he himself held some of the views that would later be called “Social Darwinism”.

For example, it is embarrassing to read that Darwin thought that men had “greater intellectual vigour and power of invention” than women. And, in probably the worst passage that I’ve ever read by Darwin, he favourably quotes another writer’s dreadful racist stereotype of the Irish.

On the other hand, Darwin was always a strong opponent of slavery, and he rightly argued that all humans, whatever their “race”, belonged to a single species and were descended from a single common ancestor. (Some of the worst racists of the time were claiming that the “superior” Europeans and the “inferior” Africans and other races were descended from separate species.)

Stephen Jay Gould summed up Darwin as being “radical in his scientific ideas, liberal in his political and social views, and conservative in personal lifestyle...”

Darwin’s ideas have given us a real understanding of nature. But we must not fall into the trap of thinking that social problems and inequalities can also be explained by Darwinism.

Phil Webster
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on 21 May 2003
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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