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The Descent of Woman

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  652 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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4.15  · 
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 ·  652 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
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 ball ...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.
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.
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
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:
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.
Tom Schulte
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Basically, her proposition is that hominid evolutionary thought is all male-centered and thus ignores obvious physiological and behavioral evidence that suggests a semi-aquatic hominid period during the millions of years of Pliocene drought. I don’t know enough evolutionary biology to pick a side, but I love reading her sassy and well-considered retorts to conventional evolutionary models.

I can't say I am convinced Morgan's innovations on basic evolutionary theory are completely convincing, but
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
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthro, 1970s, favorites
Imagine you are a member of mankind's first 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.


“There were thousands of seabirds nesting on the cliffs, and as she had a firm handgrip and a good head for heights she filled another empty ecological ni
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
La verdad es que al principio, el libro me pareció muy interesante. La historia de la evolución contada desde un punto de vista femenino; genial... Sin embargo, hacia la mitad empezó a resultar un rollo; las ideas que expone ya están pasadas de moda. En fin, si cae en vuestras manos dadle una oportunidad; si no, pues no os perdéis gran cosa.
Sid Smallman
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gorrit, favorites
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.
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
life changing!
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.
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Elaine Morgan has an interesting argument for an alternative theory of human evolution.
Aug 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Frank Mwiti
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant and mind provoking!
Leah Nugent
Jan 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, humor
3.5 stars. Morgan writes in a very accessible manner and her conclusions appear logical and well-reasoned. Readers can easily become engrossed in her arguments regarding human aquatic evolution.

That being said, upon closer examination, much of Morgan's supporting evidence regarding present human behavior does not entirely add up - she does not fully consider the diversity of cultures across time and space, and sometimes makes assumptions about "universal gender norms," such as the "nuclear fami
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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.
“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.” 1 likes
“subordination and explain her inferiority; for even as a copy she was not a very good copy. There were differences. She was not one of His best efforts. There is a line in an old folk song that runs: ’I called my donkey a horse gone wonky.’ Throughout most of the” 0 likes
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