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The Descent of Woman

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  718 ratings  ·  70 reviews
The Descent of Woman is a pioneering work, the first to argue for the equal role of women in human evolution. On its first publication in 1972 it sparked an international debate and became a rallying-point for feminism, changing the terminology of anthropologists forever. Starting with her demolition of the Biblical myth that woman was an afterthought to the creation of ma ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 28th 2001 by Souvenir Press (first published 1972)
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 ·  718 ratings  ·  70 reviews

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Corry Hinckley
May 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
This completely changed the way I interpret information from most fields of science. This book somehow made it okay for me to assume that there are probably many many ways to investigate scientific mysteries (especially of the prehistoric variety)and absolutely no way to know what happened. It didn't make me more or less cynical, but it offered me the space to assume that the blanks filled in by scientists are more like an artist's representation based on personal experiences and biases. This bo ...more
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Awesome. Sparked to read it by its mention in A Bone from a Dry Sea and my sudden need to be a feminist anthropologist. My very mediocre bio teacher was offended that I included theories from this book in a project on evolutionary stages, and wrote a nasty comment on my poster about only including 'accepted theories' in the future. Accepted by whom, punk? A theory's a theory, no matter how small.
This odd, now-classic book presented Elaine Morgan's & marine biologist Alistair Hardy's unique "aquatic ape" theory, proposing that humans evolved primarily along coastlines where seafood (as well as plant food) was plentiful. According to their theory, humans' naked (hairless or less hairy) bodies evolved to adapt to the wet conditions of constantly being in the water gathering, diving, or fishing for food, similar to the smooth skins of water mammals like dolphins. Similarly, women's balloon- ...more
Judith Johnson
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I wrote Elaine Morgan a fan letter after reading this book, and I still treasure her handwritten reply. Wonderful Welshwoman, talented and humble, who lived in the valleys all her life.
UPDATE!!! If you can, listen to this BBC Radio 4 Programme, The Waterside Ape, narrated by Sir David Attenborough:
Aug 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anthropology
Morgan's theory on how human's evolved and how bipedalism developed are contraversal but her writing style is great. Even if you don't agree with her, or accept any of her arguments, the book is still informative and enjoyable to read.
Apr 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I chose this from my brother's bookshelf when he was in high school. I was looking for a trashy novel. It was an incredibly provocative anthropology book!
Oct 21, 2008 rated it liked it
While written primarily as an amusing rebuttal to the poor reasoning of the book, The Naked Ape, it also turns to review an older hypothesis concerning the evolutionary pressures that shaped the hominins.
Morgan has some points she makes well but she is not trying to pretend she is a physical anthropologist. Her arguments are flawed but the basic concept is sound and has acquired a great deal of supporting evidence for hominins having spent a great deal of time in and around the shore for huntin
Glynda-lee Hoffmann
Sep 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: evolution
One of the funniest, educational books still in print. Elaine Morgan turned the scientific world on its head by telling the story of evolution from the woman's point of view. Thirty years later not one scientist has bothered to respond to her thesis, though she is finally getting recognition elsewhere.
Nov 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthro, 1970s
15July2020 - awarding fifth star for frequency ... for the number of times this book comes to mind when reading reviews of Goodreaders.
Imagine you are a member of first Sapien tribe to explore the east coast of southeast Asia ... Frequently feasting on young sea cows.
Morgan's orientation starts with the aquatic theory of human evolution developed by Professor Sir Alister Hardy. During humankind’s evolution, the species was strongly influenced by living along coastlines.
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
At the beginning of the real Women's Lib movement, elaine Morgan took a serious risk and wrote this science book. In a part of the world then dominated almost solely by males, it took a lot of guts to write this piece, much of which is only now, some 40 years later, being vindicated and verified as having value. Her vision that the human species did not evolve because of testosterone but more probably because of estrogen was revolutionary in its day. A Good book for those who want to explore all ...more
May 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book was a ground breaker when it was first published. It remains one to this day.
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the book that I have had to replace most often after loaning it out... and having it not return. It was a wonderful antidote to the prevailing views of "The Naked Ape" and continues to provide me with some wonderful ideas, though I read it many years ago.
M.J. Johnson
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
I'd forgotten to list this book which I read sometime in the late eighties, much of which has remained with me ever since. My memory was jogged by Elaine Morgan's autobiography which I received from my wife for Christmas. Whether she's talking science or reminiscing the writing is always first-rate. I really admire this woman.
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Very entertaining read. She's so outraged at the sexism in anthropology, both popular and academic, that she made me angry too. I loved how she analyzed the evidence and came up with very different conclusions than those of the anthropological mainstream. In her view, women, sex, pregnancy and child rearing were much more important than we had been told. Which makes sense to me, child rearing especially. Because animals who can't raise their children to childbearing age don't pass on their genes ...more
Nov 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Really cool ideas and loved the way she writes. I was very offended by what she said about manatees ("formless"? Please!!! They're perfect!!!!!!), found it pretty messed up how she quoted from antiquated racist sources without commenting on the racism, and found her version of feminism to be about what I'd expect from someone married to a man with three sons... deeply male-apologetic, denial regarding the intensity and frequency of male violence, and scolding towards women who experience enough ...more
Emily Spence
Aug 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this book several years ago and while I don't believe all of Morgan's assertions, I found it refreshing to read an alternate view of our evolution. She recently gave a TED talk which can be viewed here. ...more
Dec 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
You want to know why women have breasts? Always thought it was to make us sexier to our men? Think again. The aquatic theory of evolution, which absolutely holds water, told from a feminist perspective. Taught me everything I every wanted to know about why humans are the way we are.
Had I known that there would be such a focus on the Aquatic Ape Theory I might have skipped this! It's a really thought-provoking and interesting idea that turned out to be entirely wrong. Thrown in were interesting facts related to the evolution of the female body, ie menopause, no visible estrus, etc. I was under the impression that the book would focus primarily on those interesting facts but I was mislead.
Samantha Rizzo
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves, science
Elaine is loud & sarcastic, but gets the message across concisely.

It’s a great, albeit slightly outdated, piece of literature.
Oct 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthropology
A surprisingly absorbing book, well written, that raises many issues and questions not commonly addressed. It is a corrective to the male-centric theories one still hears voiced by some anthropologists and popularizers that would lead you to believe that all human adaptations, advantages and advancements came from male-dominated activities and reflected male needs and desires. From these theories, you'd almost think that in the beginning all human beings were men, with women as a mere afterthoug ...more
Kaethe Douglas
Jul 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
A really thought-provoking and interesting idea that turns out to be wrong. But, hey, that's how science works. People come up with crazy or rational reasons for why something might be, and people come up with ways to test the ideas, and people critique those tests, and people do new tests, and eventually the answer becomes clear.

So, read, consider, and also check out
Sid Smallman
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, gorrit
A fascinating theory, that is gaining respect, I really enjoyed having my eyes opened to an alternative and plausible explanation of our evolution that for me fits more neatly that the traditional savannah model.
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Elaine Morgan has an interesting argument for an alternative theory of human evolution.
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most fascinating and thought provoking books I've ever read.
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Though the aquatic theory of human evolution, to which the author subscribes, is still considered controversial, her reasoning is solid, her evidence is convincing, and I just love her writing style.
David Baltzer
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I didn't agree with every little thing that Elaine Morgan said in this book, but I did agree with the vast majority of it.

What she writes is sensible, fascinating, and makes you think.

Her humor, at times, made me laugh out loud.

I was involved with the Catholic Church from age 7 to age 10. As I grew up, I came to hate all of the patriarchal crap and the gender wars.

I feel that each person should be looked upon for their traits as an individual, without the bias of the false conditioning that atte
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Recommended by my mother; very grateful they had this (slightly falling apart copy) in the University library as it was very insightful, eye-opening and thought-provoking.

This took me quite a long time to read because it was quite a lot to digest, but in a good way. In my opinion, Elaine Morgan argues extraordinarily well and the writing style is perfectly witty and full of sharp humour. I’ve been persuaded to believe her theory about the aquatic history of our species and it’s so refreshing and
Diana Lanni
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Radically alternate hypothesis about evolution. Morgan posits that the many holes in current theory were because the early "gentlemen" scientists were biased by their culture, i.e. western, white and male.
She formulated an entirely different possible reason why, unlike other apes, we are hairless, bipedal and have subcutaneous fat.
I read this 40(?) years ago. It was scoffed at then, and I would like to reread it now.
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic, feminist
* funny
* clever
* has real good points (i'm not a biologist but the AAT is some food for thought shit)

At some points i felt that it was written a long ago but the main arguments still hold. Also EA is great at pointing out androcentrist bias in study of evolution without being misandrist and this is what i like in my feminism.

I will definitely give this a second read when i highlight the best lines in the book cuz gals it has some seriously great ones.

Rest in power Elaine
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
What struck me the most in this book was, not the feminist angle, but the Aquatic Ape hypothesis. The aquatic evidence is convincing, and it makes more sense than the usual weak explanation of -- he stood up in a field of tall grass to stalk his prey.
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Welsh feminist and proponent of the aquatic ape evolution theory, which claims that mankind evolved from sea-based apes.

Morgan was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to literature and to education.

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