The Martyrdom of Man is a secular history of the Western world. In it, Reade attempts to trace the development of Western civilization in terms analogous to those used in the natural sciences. He uses it to advance his philosophy, which was secular humanism. He attacks traditional religion and morality. The Martyrdom of Man was a very influential book in its time. Cecil Rhodes said "it made me what I am", while in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson: "Let me recommend this book, -- one of the most remarkable ever penned." William Winwood Reade was an African explorer/traveller and a writer.