"Ape to Apollo" follows the development in the 18th century of the idea of race as it shaped and was shaped by the idea of aesthetics. Twelve full-colour illustrations and 65 black-and-white illustrations from publications and artists of the day allow the reader to see 18th-century concepts of race translated into images. Human "varieties" are marked in such illustrations by exaggerated differences, with emphases on variations from the European ideal and on the characteristics that allegedly divided the races. In surveying the idea of human variety before "race" was introduced by Linneaus as a scientific category, David Bindman considers the work of many German and British thinkers, including J.F. Blumenbach, Georg and Johann Reinhold Forster and Immanuel Kant, as well as Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon and Pieter Camper. Bindman believes that such representations, and the theories that supported them, helped give rise to the racism of the modern era.
He writes, "It may be objected that some features of modern racism predate the Enlightenment, and already existed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; certainly there was deep prejudice, but that, I would argue, is not the same as racism, which must have as a foundation a theory of race to justify the exercise of prejudice".