How should we address Charles Darwin’s complicated legacy?

The Descent of Man, 150 years old this month, is a work of humanist brilliance – yet its errors, particularly on gender, now make for uncomfortable reading

“Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” That sentence is the sole reference to human evolution in Charles Darwin’s masterwork On the Origin of Species, which in 1859 set down the theory that explains how life on Earth has evolved. Darwin had entirely excluded humans from his scheme. That tease comes in the final chapter, almost like a post-credit scene in a superhero movie, as if to simply say: “To be continued…”

The sequel did come, in the form of The Descent of Man, published in February 1871. All of Darwin’s canon is worth reading (though the one about worms and vegetable mould is perhaps a bit niche), but The Descent of Man is my favourite, because it is the one where he holds humans up to the light. Darwin was a great writer, and the prose is typically grand:

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