The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection

From Academic Kids

Cover of The Genetical Theory, Variorum Edition.  See footnotes for detailed caption.
Cover of The Genetical Theory, Variorum Edition. See footnotes for detailed caption.

The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection is a book by Ronald Fisher. It was first published in 1930 by Clarendon. It is one of the most important books of the modern evolutionary synthesis and is obligatorily cited in biology books. The great biologist W. D. Hamilton noted on the cover of the 1999 variorum edition:

This is a book which, as a student, I weighed as of equal importance to the entire rest of my undergraduate Cambridge BA course and, through the time I spent on it, I think it notched down my degree. Most chapters took me weeks, some months.
...And little modified even by molecular genetics, Fisher's logic and ideas still underpin most of the ever broadening paths by which Darwinism continues its invasion of human thought.
Unlike in 1958, natural selection has become part of the syllabus of our intellectual life and the topic is certainly included in every decent course in biology.
For a book that I rate only second in importance in evolution theory to Darwin's Origin (this as joined with its supplement Of Man), and also rate as undoubtedly one of the greatest books of the [twentieth] century the appearance of a variorum edition is a major event...
By the time of my ultimate graduation, will I have understood all that is true in this book and will I get a First? I doubt it. In some ways some of us have overtaken Fisher; in many, however, this brilliant, daring man is still far in front.

Poignantly, Hamilton would "ultimately graduate" in 2000.



A second slightly revised edition was republished 1958. In 1999 a third variorum edition (ISBN 0198504403), with the original 1930 text, annotated with the 1958 alterations, notes and alterations accidentally omitted from the second edition was published, being edited by Henry Bennett.


It contains the following chapters:

  1. The Nature of Inheritance link (pdf) (
  2. The Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection
  3. The Evolution of Dominance
  4. Variation as determined by Mutation and Selection
  5. Variation etc
  6. Sexual Reproduction and Sexual Selection link (pdf file) (
  7. Mimicry
  8. Man and Society
  9. The Inheritance of Human Fertility
  10. Reproduction in Relation to Social Class
  11. Social Selection of Fertility
  12. Conditions of Permanent Civilization


The book is notable for a discussion of Fisher's fundamental theorem of natural selection. The last five chapters include Fisher's more idiosyncratic views on eugenics.


The book is dedicated to Major Leonard Darwin, Fisher's friend and correspondent and son of Charles Darwin.

See also


1 Cover depicts mimicry in the Lepidoptera: from top: (1) the unpalatable red passion flower butterfly (Heliconus erato erato) and (2) a mimic moth of it, Pericopes phyleis, from Peru: (3) Methona confusa and a mimic moth of it, (4) Castnia linus, from Paraguay. These illustrations were originally in the 1930 frontispiece (figs 4-7).


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