Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Descent of Woman” as Want to Read:
The Descent of Woman
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Descent of Woman

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  784 ratings  ·  80 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  784 ratings  ·  80 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Descent of Woman
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. ...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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07w4...

Plus Elaine Morgan did a brilliant Ted talk. Worth watching!
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! ...more
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1970s, anthro
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.
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
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.
Jul 11, 2022 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2 stars

“Morgan is the first to admit that The Descent of Woman was a thoroughly unscientific romp riddled with errors and convenient conclusions.”
(The Guardian, 2003 - link below)

Excuse me what??
When I picked up this book I thought I would read more about women’s role in evolution, instead I found myself gawking at pages rambling about the aquatic ape hypothesis (I would have not picked up this book had I known this). Don’t get me wrong, it is an fascinating theory and all, but after finding
Suman Srivastava
Excellent book. A classmate of mine pointed me to this book after I had written a blog post about evolution, and I’m thankful that she did. This book raises so many issues with the standard way in which we think of the evolution of Homo sapiens. Elaine Morgan explains the theory of the aquatic age brilliantly and convincingly. Shows that you don’t need to be a scientist to write well about science. Bring a good writer is at least as important. The postscript written 13 years after the book first ...more
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. ...more
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. ...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
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
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. ...more
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.
Jun 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book should be taught in high school curriculums - a book of theses on human evolution that wholly takes into the account of women. This poked holes in almost every theory I'd been taught on human evolution. The only downside to this book is it was written in the 70s (so occasionally dated, though much still concrete) and some of her lesser ideal estimations - about where some evolutionary pathways may lead - came true. There is wisdom in this book for both women and men to create new roles ...more
130502: have not thought much about physical anthropology since an undergrad course at u- many many years (decades...) ago. i have no idea where the conversation is now re. evolution of hominids, but this does suggest some avenues of study, whether they were followed i do not know...

easy to read, a bit of a historical document as far as gender goes, but it is not like by now we men are so much more enlightened... working from limited physical sources, as anyone in this field does, seems like her
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 http://www.aquaticape.org/.
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.
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.
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. ...more
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.
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Az Utolsó Előtti Huszár
  • A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future
  • Death Vigil, Vol. 1
  • The Men on My Couch: True Stories of Sex, Love and Psychotherapy
  • The Singing (The Books of Pellinor, #4)
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor
  • The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World
  • Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections
  • Monstress, Vol. 5: Warchild
  • Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1
  • Forced to Serve My Roommates: MMM First Time Straight to Gay
  • Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth
  • How the Mind Works
  • The Man Upstairs and Other Stories (Golf Stories, #0.5)
  • AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future
  • Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion's Life
  • The Waterside Ape: An Alternative Account of Human Evolution
  • HBR's 10 Must Reads on AI, Analytics, and the New Machine Age (with bonus article "Why Every Company Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy" by Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann)
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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.

News & Interviews

"Autumn is as joyful and sweet as an untimely end."   This slightly unnerving quote, from the French poet and novelist Rémy de Gourmont, nicely...
35 likes · 2 comments
“The trouble with specialists is that they tend to think in grooves. From time to time something happens to shake them out of that groove.” 2 likes
“What it adds up to is that, with the advent of the pill, woman is beginning to get her finger on the genetic trigger. What she will do with it we cannot quite foresee. But it is a far cry from the bull who gets to be prolific just because he's tops at beating the daylights out all the other bulls. It may be that for homo sapiens in the future, extreme manifestations of the behaviour patterns of dominance and aggression will be evolutionary at a discount; and if that happens he will begin to shed them as once, long ago, he shed his coat of fur.” 1 likes
More quotes…