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Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection


By: Evelleen Richards(Author)

672 pages, 48 b/w illustrations

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | Apr 2017 | #235245 | ISBN-13: 9780226436906
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £35.50 $47/€40 approx

About this book

Darwin's concept of natural selection has been exhaustively studied, but his secondary evolutionary principle of sexual selection remains largely unexplored and misunderstood. Yet sexual selection was of great strategic importance to Darwin because it explained things that natural selection could not and offered a naturalistic, as opposed to divine, account of beauty and its perception.

Only now, with Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection, do we have a comprehensive and meticulously researched account of Darwin's path to its formulation – one that shows the man, rather than the myth, and examines both the social and intellectual roots of Darwin's theory. Drawing on the minutiae of his unpublished notes, annotations in his personal library, and his extensive correspondence, Evelleen Richards offers a richly detailed, multilayered history. Her fine-grained analysis comprehends the extraordinarily wide range of Darwin's sources and disentangles the complexity of theory, practice, and analogy that went into the making of sexual selection. Richards deftly explores the narrative strands of this history and vividly brings to life the chief characters involved. A true milestone in the history of science, Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection illuminates the social and cultural contingencies of the shaping of an important – if controversial – biological concept that is back in play in current evolutionary theory.

"[S]imply stunning [...] not only is this a great book on Darwin, it is also one that serves as a guide on how to write books about Darwin that matter and make a lasting contribution to how we understand his work and its continuing influence."
Times Higher Education

"Brilliantly written and deftly constructed, this epic work sets Darwin's theorizing about sex, race, and reproduction in a long-term context extending from the late Enlightenment to the end of the Victorian era. It provides an entirely fresh account of the development of the theory of sexual selection, tracing its origins in issues ranging from birth control and radical politics to feminine fashion and the marriage market. A landmark not only in Darwin studies, but also in our understanding of the era in which science achieved unprecedented authority as the arbiter of truth."
– James A. Secord, author of Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age

"Far more than natural selection, sexual selection was distinctively Darwin's own theory, and it underpinned, albeit not without considerable controversy, much of his wider evolutionary thinking. In meticulously reconstructing just how Darwin formulated his controversial concept of the struggle for mates, Evelleen Richards provides perhaps the richest and most detailed account of the making of any scientific theory. Ranging from Enlightenment physiognomy to Victorian high fashion, and examining an unprecedented array of both Darwin's own writings and his voluminous reading, Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection is a tour de force of rigorous historical scholarship."
– Gowan Dawson, author of Show Me the Bone

"A towering achievement and a magnificent feast. All the leading Darwin themes are here: race, empire, capital, sex, gender, marriage, family, breeding, class, competition, mind, brain, heredity, embryology, ancestry, adaptation, progress, fashion, aesthetics, morals, politics, and religion. All are related to one another and to Darwin's theory of sexual selection with cogent, comprehensive, contextual interpretations; incisive, meticulous, textual explications; tireless, critical, archival research, and judicious, sensitive, biographical scholarship. There is no better book on Darwin."
– Jonathan Hodge, author of Darwin Studies: A Theorist and his Theories in their Contexts


List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

Prologue / “An Awful Stretcher”

Part I: Beauty, Brotherhood, and Breeding: The Origins of Sexual Selection
One / The Ugly Brother
Two / Good Wives
Three / “Bliss Botanic” and “Cocks Heroic”: Two Darwins in the “Temple of Nature”
Four / Beauty Cuts the Knot
Five / Reading the Face of Race
Six / Good Breeding: The Art of Mating
Seven / “Better Than a Dog Anyhow”
Eight / Flirting with Fashion
Nine / Development Matters

Part II: “For Beauty’s Sake”: The Making of Sexual Selection
Ten / Critical Years: From Pigeons to People
Eleven / Putting Female Choice in (Proper) Place
Twelve / The Battle for Beauty: Wallace versus Darwin
Thirteen / Writing the Descent: From Bird’s-Eye View to Masterful Breeder
Fourteen / The Post-Descent Years: Sexual Selection in Crisis, Female Choice at Large

Epilogue / Last Words


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Evelleen Richards is honorary professor in the history and philosophy of science at University of Sydney and affiliated scholar of history and philosophy of science at University of Cambridge.

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