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Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins Paperback – April 30, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

Based on a painstaking study of Darwin's private papers -- correspondence, notebooks, journals, ship logs, and even scribbled remarks in the margins of books and pamphlets he had read -- this compelling book endeavors to redeem and humanize the often misunderstood man. Critics uniformly praised Darwin's Sacred Cause, describing it as thoroughly researched, absorbing, and even "thrilling" (Independent). Only a few had misgivings: some critics noticed that the authors gloss over evidence of prejudice -- practically a hallmark of polite Victorian society -- in Darwin's writings, and others questioned the success of the authors in proving their claims. So was Darwin a benevolent humanitarian or an impartial scientist? Readers of this articulate and engrossing book will have to decide for themselves.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Praise for Darwin’s Sacred Cause

"Arresting . . . confront[s] the touchy subject of Darwin and race head on . . . Adrian Desmond and James Moore published a highly regarded biography of Darwin in 1991 . . . the case they make is rich and intricate, involving Darwin's encounter with race-based phrenology at Edinburgh and a religiously based opposition to slavery at Cambridge. Even Darwin's courtship of Emma, whom he winningly called 'the most interesting specimen in the whole series of vertebrate animals,' is cleverly interwoven with his developing thoughts on 'sexual selection' . . ." - New York Times Book Review

"'Darwin’s Sacred Cause' shows that there is still new material to be gleaned from the life of a man much picked over, and who turned the world upside down." - Economist

"This book dispels the legend, long attached to retrospective accounts of Darwin’s research, that the great scientist’s interest in evolution was spurred by Galapagos finches. It was people all along . . . [Desmond and Moore] shed welcome light on lesser-known features of Darwin’s work, while also providing an exceptionally crisp account of mid-nineteenth-century debates over the origins of racial differences." - Edward J. Larson, Bookforum

"An illuminating new book." - Smithsonian

"In this controversial reinterpretation of Charles Darwin’s life and work, the authors of a highly regarded 1991 biography argue that the driving force behind Darwin’s theory of evolution was his fierce abolitionism, which had deep family roots and was reinforced by his voyage on the Beagle and by events in America." - Scientific American

"'Darwin’s Sacred Cause' is a compelling narrative, well researched and convincingly presented, offering a new understanding of who Darwin was and the passions that motivated his thought. Particularly eye opening is the surprising connection between Darwin’s theory and the Christian abolition movement as they together fought a scientific community that rejected the Christian belief that all mankind was descended from a single pair. The story of that unlikely alliance is fascinating to follow, full of colorful characters both noble and vile, revealing how science and religion were debased by the evil of racism." - BookPage

"Who better than Desmond and Moore, Darwin's acclaimed biographers, to bring a fresh perspective to Darwin's central beliefs? . . . This masterful book produces a perspective on Darwin as not only scientist but moralist . . . Desmond and Moore build a new context in which to view Darwin that is utterly convincing and certain to influence scholars for generations to come. In time for Darwin's bicentennial, this is the rare book that mines old ground and finds new treasure." — Publishers Weekly, starred, boxed review

"Rush[es] forward with the urgency of the abolitionist spirit. Magnificent. — Booklist, starred review

"[A] stimulating, in-depth picture of 19th-century scientific thinking and racial attitudes." — Kirkus Reviews

"Well researched, likely to be controversial . . . this book provides [an] enlightening glimpse into a life of seemingly infinite complexity." — Library Journal

"Desmond and Moore’s fascinating new look at Darwin forces us to revise and expand the way we look at this revolutionary figure, and to see him wrestling with moral as well as scientific questions. And it is a reminder of just how much the issue of slavery loomed over everything in the nineteenth century, including even fields that were apparently far distant." —Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost and Bury the Chains

"This exciting book is sure to create a stir. Already widely admired for their pathbreaking biography of Charles Darwin, Desmond and Moore here give an entirely new interpretation of Darwin’s views on humankind, bringing together scholarship and sparkling narrative pace to explore theories of ape ancestry and racial origins in the Victorian period. Darwin’s part in making the modern world will never be the same again!" —Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University, and author of Charles Darwin: Voyaging

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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (April 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226144518
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226144511
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,218,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Political analysis without historical context is all sail and no rudder. Much ink has been expended as of late in the efforts to enshrine Charles Darwin with abolitionist credentials equal to that of Abraham Lincoln's. The factoid that these two men were born on the same day, February 12, 1809, is leveraged to give this claim credibility. This fraudulently steals away credit from Lincoln, who took a bullet to the head for freeing the slaves, and transfers it by inference to an aristocrat whom remained in his plush abode throughout the conflict, and in truth, never lifted a finger or lent his prestigious name for the cause.

Adrian Desmond's book is by far the most famous of these works. So how does Desmond substantiate his claim? By his own admission, Desmond relies largely on a series of private notes, or what he calls "cryptic marginalia," which may document Charles Darwin's disdain for the "peculiar institution," but which Charles Darwin never proclaimed publically. Yet, history, much like science is guided by facts not by feel-good factoids, and the facts do not fall on Darwin's side. The implication that Darwin's "Origin of the Species" had an emancipating effect on American Civil War polemic is simply unsupportable by the dry facts. A comparison to the books that did have an influence on the outcome of that pivotal conflict quickly reveals so:

1.) Even in Europe, a relatively paltry 1,250 copies of "Origin of Species" were printed prior to the American Civil War.
2.) Desmond and Moore admit to the humble sales volume of "Origins" in a previous book, "Darwin", that sales of "Origins" were limited to 60 to 250 per month.
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Format: Paperback
Here is a fascinating look at the impetus for Darwin's research, and while it may not have been his #1 goal--to establish the factuality of a single creation, not multiple creations, of mankind (one for each race, making the races different species)--this theory of multiple creations WAS a current argument for slavery, and Darwin's research DID give that theory the lie. It is not a light or easy read, but it fleshes out the times in which Darwin was working better than books that just pinpoint his subsequently developed theory of the ascent of man.I highly recommend this book.
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