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Book Recommendation: Ashley Montagu Edition of Darwin’s Descent of Man

11998.jpgI guess it’s the librarian in me, but I’ve always been interested in editions of classic works and that includes Darwin. To wit, my recent discovery in an antiquarian bookshop of an edition of Darwin’s Descent of Man by Ashley Montagu (1905-1999), anthropologist, prolific author, Darwinist extraordinaire, and poster boy for the American Humanist Association.

What recommends this particular edition is its brevity and the admission by Montagu in the preface that "it is unlikely that sexual selection can have played a significant role in his [mankind’s] development." Accordingly, he excised many of the original chapters devoted to sexual selection as "not really relevant," carving out more than two hundred pages of Darwin’s original text. What results is a more condensed and readable version of this most revealing (and in my opinion damning) of Darwin’s works.

This volume released by the Easton Press was issued in 1979. While it might be hard to find, it is probably readily available through library loan. Those who have found the complete unabridged Descent daunting will be repaid by obtaining this leaner, meaner version. Bound in leather with gilt edging, it is suitably designed to adorn any humanist’s inner sanctum of worship. I’m happy to add it to my collection as an honest admission by one of Darwin’s faithful that even he couldn’t swallow all of the codswallop.

Removing the extraneous material also has the advantage of highlighting the most glaringly muddle-headed portions of Darwin’s thinking on man, social organization, and religion. In fact, I think I regard it as the definitive text. It also has some handsome illustrations added by Fritz Kredel (every fairy tale needs good pictures!).