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The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex Paperback – August 1, 1981

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 1, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691023697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691023694
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,569,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"[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

About the Author

About the Author:

"Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist. After becoming eminent among scientists for his field work and inquiries into geology, he proposed and provided scientific evidence that all species of life have evolved over time from one or a few common ancestors through the process of natural selection. The fact that evolution occurs became accepted by the scientific community and the general public in his lifetime, while his theory of natural selection came to be widely seen as the primary explanation of the process of evolution in the 1930s, and now forms the basis of modern evolutionary theory. In modified form, Darwin's scientific discovery remains the foundation of biology, as it provides a unifying logical explanation for the diversity of life.

Darwin developed his interest in natural history while studying first medicine at Edinburgh University, then theology at Cambridge. His five-year voyage on the Beagle established him as a geologist whose observations and theories supported Charles Lyell's uniformitarian ideas, and publication of his journal of the voyage made him famous as a popular author. Puzzled by the geographical distribution of wildlife and fossils he collected on the voyage, Darwin investigated the transmutation of species and conceived his theory of natural selection in 1838. Having seen others attacked as heretics for such ideas, he confided only in his closest friends and continued extensive research to meet anticipated objections. His research was still in progress in 1858 when Alfred Russel Wallace sent him an essay which described a similar theory, prompting immediate joint publication of both of their theories.

His 1859 book On the Origin of Species established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation of diversification in nature. He examined human evolution and sexual selection in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, followed by The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. His research on plants was published in a series of books, and in his final book, he examined earthworms and their effect on soil.

In recognition of Darwin's pre-eminence, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to John Herschel and Isaac Newton." (Quote from --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 55 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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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Just a few words on July 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
While Darwin's theory of natural selection was accepted in the 1930s, Darwin's theory of sexual selection remains controversial. In Ernst Mayr's recent What is Evolution? Darwin's theory of sexual selection receives about two paragraphs. By comparison, Darwin considered sexual selection important enough to receive an equal number of pages as he devoted to his theory of natural selection. 130 years later, he's still probably the only evolutionary theorist to make this judgement. Equally, one must wonder that if Darwin had not come up with the idea of sexual selection, would anyone else have done so?

This book is not merely revolutionary on a theoretical basis, but also in its thoughts on animals - including humans. 100 years before Jane Goodall `discovers' chimpanzees using tools, Darwin devotes more than a page to animals using tools. More than 110 years before vets begin to give dogs prozac, Darwin argues that dogs have a sense of humour. His views on animals raises them higher than any modern theorist: his views on humans lowers them to where they are - animals, and thus the title.

130 years later, this book is still radical. It is probably the most significant alteration to our understanding of ourselves since Copernicus. Its contents, with its stark views on human violence, continues to make aetheists uneasy. The book is very readable, and Darwin's clarity, sincerity and incisiveness places him above all modern writers. Revolutionary, thoughtful, and warm, it remains more a wonder than a masterpiece.
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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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