Hereditary Genius

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Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences
AuthorFrancis Galton
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherMacmillan Publishers
Publication date

Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences is a book by Francis Galton about the supposed genetic inheritance of intelligence. It was first published in 1869 by Macmillan Publishers.[1] The first American edition was published by D. Appleton & Company in 1870.[2] It was Galton's first major work written from a hereditarian perspective.[3] It was later referred to as "the first serious study of the inheritance of intelligence"[4] and as "the beginning of scientific interest in the topic of genius."[5] In the book, Galton demonstrated that the sons of men who he considered "eminent" in a given profession were more likely to achieve such eminence themselves than if they were not closely related to eminent individuals. He interpreted this pattern as evidence for genetic transmission of human intelligence,[6] though it was later shown that his results were entirely compatible with cultural inheritance as well.[7]

Contemporary reception[edit]

Alfred Russel Wallace wrote a favorable review of Hereditary Genius in Nature, concluding that the book "...will take rank as an important and valuable addition to the science of human nature."[8] In general, contemporary scientists in Victorian England reviewed the book favorably, but reception among non-scientific Victorian readers was more mixed: religious commentators were much more critical of the book than were those of neither a scientific nor a religious background.[9] Writing in the Journal of Anthropology, George Harris wrote, "We thank Mr. Galton for leading the way. We have canvassed his opinions freely; and, frequently as we differ from him, we must again assert our belief as to the value of his efforts, and the candid manner in which he has conducted his inquiries".[10] Charles Darwin, a cousin of Galton, praised the book, writing in a letter to his cousin,

I have only read 50 pages of your book (to Judges), but I must exhale myself, else something will go wrong with my inside. I do not think I ever in all of my life read anything more interesting and original—and how well and clearly you put every point!"[6]


  1. ^ Galton, Francis (1869). Hereditary genius: An inquiry into its laws and consequences. London: Macmillan and Co. doi:10.1037/13474-000.
  2. ^ Darwin, Charles (2010-04-22). The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Cambridge University Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780521768894.
  3. ^ Fancher, Raymond E. (June 1983). "Biographical Origins of Francis Galton's Psychology". Isis. 74 (2): 227–233. doi:10.1086/353245. ISSN 0021-1753. PMID 6347965.
  4. ^ Bramwell, B. S. (January 1948). "Galton's hereditary genius and the three following generations since 1869". The Eugenics Review. 39 (4): 146–153. PMC 2986459. PMID 18903832.
  5. ^ Eysenck, H. J. (1995-05-11). Genius: The Natural History of Creativity. Cambridge University Press. pp. 14. ISBN 9780521485081.
  6. ^ a b Gillham, Nicholas W. (September 2009). "Cousins: Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton and the birth of eugenics". Significance. 6 (3): 132–135. doi:10.1111/j.1740-9713.2009.00379.x.
  7. ^ Morton, N. E.; Rao, D. C. (March 1980). "Hereditary genius: A centennial problem in resolution of cultural and biological inheritance". Social Biology. 27 (1): 48–52. doi:10.1080/19485565.1980.9988402. ISSN 0037-766X. PMID 7292036.
  8. ^ Wallace, Alfred R. (March 1870). "Hereditary Genius, an Inquiry into its Laws and Consequences". Nature. 1 (20): 501–503. Bibcode:1870Natur...1..501W. doi:10.1038/001501a0. ISSN 0028-0836.
  9. ^ Gökyigit, Emel Aileen (1994). "The reception of Francis Gallon's Hereditary genius in the Victorian Periodical Press". Journal of the History of Biology. 27 (2): 215–240. doi:10.1007/BF01062563. ISSN 0022-5010. PMID 11639319.
  10. ^ Harris, George; Galton, Francis (July 1870). "Hereditary Genius". The Journal of Anthropology. 1 (1): 56. doi:10.2307/3024796. JSTOR 3024796.

Further reading[edit]