Robert Chambers (1802-1871). His anonymously published book, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), helped pave the way for public acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution. (source)
I haven't yet read Nicholas Wade's book A Troublesome Inheritance. I will venture to say, however, that it will be remembered less for its actual content than for its role in encouraging discussion of a difficult topic. In particular, it will familiarize a broad audience with the following points:
1. Biological evolution did not slow down with the advent of cultural evolution. In fact, it speeded up, particularly when farming began to replace hunting and gathering some 10,000 years ago. At that time, the pace of genetic change may have risen a hundred-fold.
2. Cultural evolution diversified the range of human environments. Instead of adapting only to differences in climate or food sources, like other animals, our species also adapted to differences in social structure, in the division of labor, in the means of subsistence, in unwritten or codified norms of conduct, in the degree of sedentary living, and in many other human-made phenomena. Our ancestors reshaped their environments, and these human-made environments reshaped them via gene-culture co-evolution.
3. This gene-culture co-evolution persisted into modern times. The English population, for instance, evolved between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries in terms of certain behavioral traits, particularly future time orientation and distaste for violence as a means to settle personal disputes. As Gregory Clark has shown, this behavioral change resulted from a demographic change—the relative reproductive success of the middle and upper classes—which altered the composition of the English gene pool. So the mantra that "we, too, were once savages" does not, in fact, deny the reality of biological evolution. It affirms it.
4. Human populations thus differ not only anatomically but also in various mental and behavioral predispositions. These differences are statistical and often apparent only when one compares large numbers of people. But even a weak statistical difference can profoundly affect how a society will develop and organize itself.
5. Finally, Richard Lewontin was right when he reported that genes vary much more within populations than between populations. He was unaware, however, that genetic variability between populations is qualitatively different from genetic variability within a population. The more a gene has value, the more it will vary across a population boundary, since such boundaries usually coincide with barriers that separate different habitats, different environments, different means of subsistence and, hence, different selection pressures. Conversely, the less a gene has value, the more it will vary within a population, that is, among individuals who share similar conditions of life. The selection pressure is uniform but this uniformity will not level out the variability of such genes within the population—much as a steam iron will smooth a rumpled shirt—since this variability is less phenotypically significant, i.e., it produces fewer functional differences that natural selection can act on.
Are there questionable points in Wade's book? Undoubtedly. But we should not wait until all issues are settled before we put pen to paper. Writing is a process where ideas are shared with a broader audience for debate. We may forget that The Origin of Species was written without any knowledge of Mendelian genetics. We may also forget, or simply not know, that Darwin’s path to public acceptance was cleared by an earlier book: Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844). Although its anonymous author, Robert Chambers, had no understanding of natural selection, he nonetheless played a key role in familiarizing the public with the fossil record and the reality of biological change over time. As one historian pointed out:
It is customary among biographers of Darwin to speak of the excitement which greeted the appearance of the Origin and of Huxley's able defense of Darwin at Oxford in his clash with Bishop Wilberforce. Actually, however, by the time Darwin published, Robert Chambers had drawn much of the first wrath of the critics and the intelligent public was at least reasonably prepared to consider a more able, scientific presentation of the subject.
[…] The attacks which the scientific world launched upon the Vestiges have, in retrospect, a quite unreal character. They belabor minutiae and amateurish minor errors as though there was some subconscious recognition that the heart of the thesis was unassailable.
[…] With its publication and success as a best seller, the world of fashion discovered evolution. The restricted professional worlds of science and of theology both lost their ability to suppress or intimidate public thinking upon the matter.
[…] By 1859, when the Origin of Species was published, an aroused and eager audience was considerably prepared for the revelations of Charles Darwin. The great amateur disputant and the great professional scholar should always be remembered as having together won the public mind to evolution. (Eiseley, 1958, pp. 134, 138, 139)
Chambers, R. (1844). Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, London: John Churchillhttp://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?itemID=A2&viewtype=text&pageseq=1
Eiseley, L. (1958). Darwin's Century. Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It, New York: Anchor Books.
Wade, N. (2014). A Troublesome Inheritance. Genes, Race and Human History, Penguin Books.