Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
September 2004
Fred's Rating: 
Charles Darwin
Total Pages: 
Penguin Classics

Charles Darwin’s first edition of this book was in 1871, twelve years after he published On the Origin of Species. This 2004 reprint edition has a 58-pp Introduction by James Moore and Adrian Desmond. This was a gift book.

The Amazon website for the paperback edition is

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this books' covers at the website above.]

The home page has a summary/history (click on ‘Read more’). The 48-pp Introduction by James Moore and Adrian Desmond give this book’s history and Darwin’s chronology. Only after 66 pages of Roman Numerals (not included in my 694 page count!) do we come to page 1 of Darwin’s words. A 2-pp Preface and a 5-pp Table of changes since the first edition precede Darwin's 6-pp Contents with three Parts and 21 Chapters. Six pages are needed because each chapter title is followed by many phrases that name the subdivisions of the chapter that aren’t numbered but are in a small font and are separated by hyphens. They are detailed enough for a reader to select a subtitle of interest. When I read this book during the past month, I read all of PART I – the Descent or Origin of Man (Chapters 1-7) and PART III – Sexual Selection in Relation to Man, and Conclusion (Chapters 19-21). I took the strong ‘hint’ to skim over much of PART II – Sexual Selection (Chapters 8-18). In skimming I felt I had to read what Darwin said about any critter that was shown in a figure comparing male and female shapes and sizes. Also I looked for a summary of the many critters who were in Darwin’s chapters (birds had four chapters!) sometimes along with other orders of species. Mammals had two chapters – the last two of PART II.

Alas, Amazon’s ‘online previews’ of the three editions – Kindle, hardcover or paperback – fail to include Darwin’s splendidly detailed 6-pp Contents. Instead they jump over his Contents pages to his 4-pp Introduction. It is worth reading, however. But without Darwin’s great Contents pages, I cannot have you look at the great number of species he either studied himself or got the information he was looking for from mostly other British or European observers of nature. Since birdwatching was in vogue among the landed gentry or Lords, many of whom were happy to describe what they saw of bird’s activities, most of which were done by males who performed their song, dance or strutting before a female prior to any sexual activity. Many of the species – land, sea, or air – focused usually on one performance activity.

Here are the Contents for Ch. 1 and Ch. 21 from Darwin’s Contents with details in normal font. “Ch. 1 – The Evidence of the Descent of Man from some Lower Form – nature of the evidence bearing on the origin of man – Homologous structures in man and the lower animals – Miscellaneous points of correspondence – Development – Rudimentary structures, muscles, sense-organs, hair, bones reproductive organs, etc – The bearing of these great classes of facts on the origin of man.” … “Ch. 21 – General Summary and Conclusion – Main conclusion that man is descended from some lower form – Manner of development – Genealogy of man – Intellectual and moral facilities – Sexual selection – Concluding remarks.” In Ch. 2-20 the amount of subtexts is sometimes twice the size of that of Ch. 1 and Ch. 21 has the smallest size of any other chapter (that’s why I give here only these two chapters).

The carnivores, however, would chase away or actually fight another male, with the winner doing the song or dance or strutting to show off his feathers or whatever part of his body was colorful or whatever the females responded to. Usually, but not always, the females also looked for defects in the male that kept that defect from thriving in that species. This generality occurred when the community of that species had established what performance activity led to sexual selection by the females of a suitable male. So Darwin had, without seeming to recognize it and name it, discovered the communal selection criteria were also part of the evolution of the fittest.

Many of the species I selected to read a bit about in PART II had somehow established communal sexual selection. Darwin stated clearly that neither he nor anyone else knew how communal selection arose. In a few cases, a breakaway group of birds or mammals would modify over time the communal selection feature of the overly large group from which they broke away. All Darwin had to say about this modification aspect is that observers of that species had to be a long-time observer to observe a selection activity become modified. In his day such observers were rare. But since he wrote about this unexpected form of evolution by sexual selection, others who had become convinced that bird, mammal, and human evolution by modification via sexual selection was nowadays an important component of communal evolution. But after this book came out many long-time observers started looking for it.

The eager speakers who, unlike Charles Darwin, thrived in debate or speech, initially spoke of evolution as competition 'red by tooth or claw' (except for humans), thus many of those who had rejected evolution since they had only heard of the ‘tooth or claw fights’ as the main (if not only) form of evolution. Cooperation, whether for a favored performance of sexual selection, or cooperation for building and/or favoring cooperative health or educational activities for humans was not included in this book. Today most people understand how community cooperation plays a large part in becoming favored by nature. Charles Darwin had some of the data that pointed towards the important part of evolution by communal means. Today most educated people are well aware of the need for clean air, water and land for humanity to thrive. But some seemingly well-educated people pay no attention to activities or corporations that lead to ignoring the need for clean air, water or land if this negligence increases their profit or income. To calm myself down when I meet with such ignorers (or deniers) of pollution, I sing in my mind a well-known (and often sung song in the 70s and 80s) ‘When Will They Ever Learn?’ Since those days I think that more corporations have learned or hopefully are beginning to learn this essential lesson.

Darwin may have overlooked the power of cooperation in his day because this book was focused on the favorable aspects of sexual selection to improve species. Selecting the most attractive males by the females was the goal of this book. A lot has changed since his day, but his fame remains since his books introduced the idea of evolution and that it, rather than chance, was what led to possible improvements to humanity and all other critters that grace our living earth.

I do not include PART II in my rating, for it would lower my rating of the whole book to three stars. So I rate this book at four stars for anyone who will skim PART II as I did but read all of PART I and III, so as to focus on what Darwin had to say about humans.