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Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution
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Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  83 ratings  ·  18 reviews
An astonishing new portrait of a scientific icon.

There is a mystery surrounding Darwin: How did this quiet, respectable gentleman, a pillar of his parish, come to embrace one of the most radical ideas in the history of human thought? Darwin risked a great deal in publishing his theory of evolution, so something very powerful--a moral fire--must have propelled him. That mor
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published January 28th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Three comments:
1. I am astonished at the prevalence of racist thought, to the point of obsession, among Caucasians who inhabited the Atlantic world during the 19th century. The theory of plural origins, i.e. that God made the races in separate acts of creation - in opposition to the conviction of common origin of homo sapiens, phrenology leading to cranial science by which races were ranked by cranial capacity, the religious pro-slavery argument, and on and on dominated this thoroughly revolting
This incredibly detailed book sheds light on the physical, mental and emotional toll
Darwin's theories had on him. It explores his committement to the abolition of slavery and the drive this gave him to prove without doubt, the origin of all races came from a common ancestor.
At times, I found myself frustrated at Darwin's hesitation to publish his theories of evolution but this book shows the struggles and battles he was up against. The sheer horror of such acute racism and elitism in the majori
See my full review in the Washington Post (on the cover of the final issue of Book World, RIP):

"In Darwin's Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James Moore contend that abhorrence of slavery inspired and shaped Darwin's theory of evolution. To grasp his grand project, we have first to understand one of the great scientific battles of the mid-19th century. "Polygenists," such as the American physician Samuel George Morton, held that the human races were each a distinct species, and
An excellent book describing Charles Darwin and the basis for his rather progressive views towards other peoples, especially in regards to slavery. Some readers may carp about the fleshing out of what could have been a much shorter book, and they would be correct to do so given the inordinate amount of history about phrenology. Still, I appreciated the bulk of material as this book tries--and succeeds--to offer more than a hypothesis: it is also a somewhat decent biography of the man. As there i ...more
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 prejud

Margaret Sankey
Meant as a refutation to the "see, evolution led straight to Hitler" crowd, this additional volume by Darwin's most recent masterful biographers examines the context of Darwin's attachment to anti-slavery and common descent. This should not be a surprise, since his grandfathers were ""Lunar Men"", funders of Thomas Clarkson and odd friends of Wilberforce (whose son was Darwin's great intellectual enemy), and the Wedgwood women were staunch abolitionists, but mining the early diaries and letters ...more
Finally we meet the real Charles Darwin, not simply the scientist but the man who was influenced by the strong antislavery sentiments of his family (the Wedgewoods and the Darwins) and applied what he saw to interpreting evolution. Both Darwin and Lincoln were born on the same day in 1809 and were destined in a strange way to influence social and and political history. Here is the detailed study of how a naturalist became captive to the currents of history and the winds of change. This is a volu ...more
A brave and interesting thesis that unfortunately never gets much further than that. Moore and Desmond rescue scientific Darwinism from its (not always unfounded) reputation as racism's scientific apologia by way of biographical investigation and cultural exploration. But having established a solid horizontal framework, they never succeed in building vertically to a definite and convincing conclusion. The book is also plagued by cursory considerations of phrenology and biology that, while german ...more
Mark Jones
Quite a slog to get through but worth it. It helped illuminate the challenges Darwin faced to publish, and revealed his disgust with slavery and the use of science to justify it. Part of what made it a difficult read was the vast number of people to keep track of. If I had known, I might have started a list to help keep them all straight. Overall, a good window into two of the most interesting developments of the 19th century.
Sharon Thompson
Now I just want to read Darwin's books. I think I would rather determine what he meant for myself than have some other author do it and perhaps jump to conclusions.
Taya V
Sep 09, 2009 Taya V added it
Darwin's marriage and the love he had for his wife put a great distancer between himself and his beliefs. His wife was a faithful Christian and did not share his beliefs and cautioned him and many of his concepts and ideas were not fully expressed because of the love and respect he had for his wife during their marriage. I admire him for that.
This book would have made a good 12 page essay. Through redundancy after redundancy the authors stretched the defense of their thesis to a 400+ page book. Yawn. The title suggests some moral imperative motivating Darwin's researches but I thought the narrative pointed more toward the motivators of curiosity and the desire to be right.
Jan 20, 2010 Shinynickel marked it as to-read
Off this review by Rowan Hooper,

The authors come up with something astonishing: a radical new explanation of the force that drove Darwin. It shows how he was motivated by the great moral cause of his day: opposition to slavery.
Tim Martin
Excellent revelatory book - combination of science historical biography and political activism in the mid nineteenth century anglo american politics of anti-slavery.
Kenny Taylor
fantastic insight into what drove darwin to write the origin. its an unpalatanble read due to the contextual language. but you will see that it is necessary.
It is a fascinating study of this driving force behind Darwin's researches.
Dave Russell
I was amazed, a thoroughly thought provoking book.
Mar 24, 2009 Michelle marked it as to-read
Birthday gift!
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Adrian John Desmond is an English writer.
More about Adrian Desmond...
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