Ok this was not a book I pulled off the airport bookshop shelf as part of my ‘must read over Christmas’ collection – although my Executive Assistant thought that if I had chosen it, it would have been a natural selection! My Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law (she is the anthropologist in the family so I know she chose it) Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery & the Quest for Human Origins has been the most challenging read of the break, but it is extraordinary. I learned a lot about Darwin, but equally I learned a lot about the time when he was formulating his theories.
World authorities on Darwin, Adrian Desmond & James Moore offer an amazing insight into how Darwin came to his view of evolution, linking it to his commitment to the abolition of slavery. They researched unpublished family letters, manuscripts, notes that Darwin wrote on other books, ships’ logs…everything they could lay their hands on.
In the introduction they say “Not only is the evolutionary upshot of his hatred of slavery unknown, Darwin’s humanitarian imperative itself has never been brought adequately to the fore. We try to show how it locks him into the context of nineteenth-century abolitionalism, and how it speaks directly to our post-colonial age, with its hatred of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Ours is a book about a caring, compassionate man who was affected for life by the scream of a tortured slave.”
As it says on the fly-leaf, Desmond & Moore argue that only by appreciating Darwin’s Christian abolitionist inheritance, can we fully understand the perplexing mix of personal drive, public hesitancy and scientific radicalism that led him to finally in 1871 to publish The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.
The book was published last year to coincide with the worldwide Darwin celebrations of 2009 – the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
Extremely highly recommended reading - 376 pages plus an almost 80 page bibliography! There are a number of on-line reviews – I have just linked to one.