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The Descent of Man (Penguin Classics) Paperback – June 29, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Review

One of the ten most significant books. (Sigmund Freud)"

About the Author

Charles Darwin, a Victorian scientist and naturalist, has become one of the most famous figures of science to date. Born in 1809 to an upper-middle-class medical family, he was destined for a career in either medicine or the Anglican Church. However, he never completed his medical education and his future changed entirely in 1831 when he joined HMS Beagle as a self-financing, independent naturalist. On returning to England in 1836 he began to write up his theories and observations which culminated in a series of books, most famously On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, where he challenged and contradicted contemporary biological and religious beliefs with two decades worth of scientific investigation and theory. Darwin's theory of natural selection is now the most widely accepted scientific model of how species evolve. He died in 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Damien Hirst is an internationally renowned English artist, who has dominated the art scene in England since the 1990s. Known in particular for his series of works on death, Hirst here provides a contemporary, visual take on Darwin's theory of evolution - the struggle between life and death in nature. William Bynum is Professor Emeritus of the History of Medicine at University College, London, and was for many years Head of the Academic Unit of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. He edited the scholarly journal Medical History from 1980 to 2001, and his previous publications include Science and the Practice of Medicine in the Nineteenth Century; The Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine (co-edited with Roy Porter); The Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (with Roy Porter), The Dictionary of Medical Biography (with Helen Bynum), and History of Medicine: A Very Short Introduction. He lives in Suffolk.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140436316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140436310
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 56 people found the following review helpful By David Horn on September 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
While I would never presume - as some reviewers might - to misstate what is said in this classic volume and then presume to suggest that "now you don't need to read the book," I will say that this is an excellent edition of a classic work. All who have any interest in the history of Darwinian evolution and particularly the historical views of the evolution of man will find this fascinating reading, particularly if the context can be juxtaposed with what has been discovered since Darwin's time. Of course, times have changed, our hopefully less euro-centric views have been altered and there has been considerable progress through the generations since the original publication by Darwin, and that makes the progress of human knowledge all the more fascinating, as well as the insight Darwin obviously possessed in his day. This one's a "must-read" for anyone interested in the history of science.
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32 of 40 people found the following review helpful By S. Schwartz on October 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book takes off where "Origin of the Species" leaves off. In Origin, Darwin does not present his hypotheses on the origin of man, but in this book he states categorically that the human race is descended from earlier species of apes, which were descended from much more primitive life forms. The book is the work of a naturalist, and it is surprising how perceptive Darwin was, considering that this book was written in 1871. It faced a storm of rejection and tremendous furor. The book caused a storm of controversy throughout the entire world. Darwin sets out his facts as dispassionately as possible, but that did not stop many nations from banning the work. Darwin also clearly states in this important work that man is continuing to evolve. In this book Darwin states that the two main forms of selection that helped to shape the animals and humans the most through time are the theories of natural selection and sexual selection, and he explains the difference between these two often throughout the book. Even though the book is actually quite readable, I found it not an easy book to read. Even now these theories seem too much to be believed in some spots, but I do not argue at all with Darwin's theory. It is in fact the only way that the human race could have evolved. Definitely a must-read for anyone interested in "ground-breaking" literature.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By InquiringMind on November 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
A truly outstanding read!

I've kept The Descent of Man on my book shelf for over 30 years, unread. I was always too busy to justify the time required to do it justice. Now that I'm writing a dissertation in the History and Philosophy of Science I had the excuse I always lacked for tackling this monumental work. I'm glad I waited.

Years as a practicing biologist and teacher have taught me the value of perspective. This is not a book that will teach you the details of human evolution. Read something recent in biological anthropology if that is what you are after. If you struggle with the convoluted sentence structure and wordiness of Victorian prose, this is certainly not the book for you. Try Harry Potter or Curious George instead.

I always enjoy reading the negative reviews of books written on controversial topics just to see how many people actually review the subject matter rather than the book. I find it hysterical that 6 of the 7 negative reviews listed here were written by two fundamentalists and the seventh one was so tongue-in-cheek I'd give his review 5-starts just for fun. I found all but one of these negative reviews very predictable, and irrelevant.

The Descent needs to be read by anyone interested in what Darwin thought and dared to publically declare. It should not, however, be read outside the context of his letters, and the social milieu in which he lived. It is most certainly anchored in a different age yet bridges that age to our own. Evolution is the cornerstone of all modern biology. Darwin's astonishing synthesis and daring predictions continue to be tested, refined, and corroborated. Seeing "only in a glass darkly," he nonetheless illuminated so much that is correct in human evolutionary history.
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39 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Rossen on July 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
How is it possible that anyone could be as ignorant as Rondeltap and give this great classic less than 5 stars? Given that it was written in the middle of the 19th Century, it more than meets the highest scientific standards of its time. Furthermore, except perhaps for Darwin's own Origin, it is arguably one of the most important works of its era. When we find that the writings of Marx, Kant and many other giants of that Century can no longer instruct us, we shall find this one still penetratingly relevant.
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35 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
A beautiful, historical account of a great naturalist's work. It is important to keep in mind that the book was written 129 years ago, though, since the use of the language would not be considered "politically correct" nowadays.
Darwin was someone "who viewed life on earth in terms of an evolutionary framework grounded in science and reason" (taken from the Introduction by H. James Birx). It is difficult to believe that an educated person would misinterpret his ideas as being sexist or racist. Only the ignorant (or a creationist in disguise) would attempt to discredit the work of one of the greatest minds of all times by giving it the wrong label. Reading Daniel C. Dennett's "Darwin Dangerous Idea" (highly recommended) might help to put it in the right context.
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