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Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life Paperback – September 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691102406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691102405
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,301,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Darwin's competitor for proving a theory of natural selection was stuck in the Spice Islands, malarial and enjoying a less hulking reputation than his colleague did. In Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life, Peter Raby (Samuel Butler) shows that, save for these setbacks, Wallace might have been our man on evolution. Like other biographers before him, Raby, who lectures on Drama and English at Homerton College, University of Cambridge, describes the disastrous fire that consumed four years' worth of specimens Wallace had collected in the Amazon, the essay that Wallace sent to Darwin revealing his ideas about natural selection, Darwin's rush to publish his ideas first, Wallace's ongoing but lesser achievements, his long, energetic career. Though boasting no original material (Wallace's life is an open book), Raby's accomplished study is the first in some years and adds greater insight into this likeable underdog's personality.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The fame of Charles Darwin so outshines that of any contemporary biologist that it stuns many students to learn that Darwin must share the credit for discovering natural selection--the driving force behind evolution--with a brilliant scientist now usually consigned to the footnotes. With this marvelously readable biography of Alfred Russel Wallace, Raby has rescued that forgotten pioneer from oblivion. Because of his full elaboration of evolutionary theory, Darwin did eventually earn a higher place in the scientific pantheon--Raby makes short shrift of the sensational conjecture that Darwin stole his theory from Wallace. But why has Wallace--an independent discoverer of the evolutionary secret and one of the most daring and widely traveled naturalists of all time--been relegated to obscurity? The answer lies largely in the scientific community's embarrassment at how this great thinker and explorer entangled himself during his later years in political controversy and spiritualist enthusiasm. Detailing Wallace's crusades against vaccinations and in defense of seances, Raby confronts the scientist's credulity and wrongheadedness; yet he also highlights the lifelong streak of stubborn independence that made possible the early scientific breakthroughs. In capturing the cross-grained complexities of this exceptional collector of beetles and birds, Raby gives readers a fascinating specimen of the most mysterious and unpredictable species of all. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Everyone has heard of evolution, and everyone has heard of Charles Darwin. Indeed, evolution is sometimes called Darwinism. 143 years after papers on the Theory of Evolution were first published, however, relatively few people know that Darwin was a co-discoverer of the theory. Independently, Alfred Russel Wallace had come up with it, and their papers were announced together. Wallace fully deserves as much credit for the theory as Darwin, but will never get it because of Darwin's more voluminous writings on the subject. Nonetheless, as a scientist and as a participant in one of the great dramas of science, Wallace deserves to be better known, and there is now the first biography of him in 20 years, _Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life_ (Princeton University Press) by Peter Raby, a full and fascinating book which tells plenty about Wallace, Darwin, and their theory.
Comparisons to Darwin run throughout the book, quite naturally. Darwin's background was such that he never had to worry much about getting an education or earning a living. Wallace was the son of an attorney who fared poorly, and throughout his life had to fret about money. His formal schooling ended at age 14, and he eventually took up as a professional collector, selling prized specimens from the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago to museums and armchair naturalists. His explorations enabled him to view island species and boundaries, and in 1858, recovering from Malaria, he had his inspiration of survival of the fittest. He wrote from Malay to Darwin a paper about his ideas. Darwin was startled. He could not honorably publish his ideas, now that Wallace had come up with them independently, but he also did not want to lose the prize of his years of work on what turned out to be the backbone of biology.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The blurb from Janet Browne on the cover is misleading. Raby's life of Wallace compares poorly with her lively and insightful biography of Charles Darwin. This is a detailed chronology of Wallace's life, but reveals little of the inner man. Raby is not a scientist, and he fails to put Wallace's ideas into historical context or to clarify the subtle differences between his work and Darwin's. Worth reading if you know nothing about Wallace, but not the definitive work. Janet Browne should take this on if she ever finishes volume two of Darwin's life.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on July 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Victorian Britain was a time of exploration, industrial advance, social and political experiments and scientific speculation. Although many key figures appeared, few covered so many elements of this dynamic as did Alfred Russell Wallace. From almost desparately poor beginnings, Wallace became a dedicated explorer and specimen collector. Raby's sympathetic portrayal of this complex character is a good introduction. Wallace travelled and collected far more widely than did his contemporary Charles Darwin. That both developed the same concept, evolution of species by natural selection, was the result of keen powers of observation. Wallace's wide-spread interests took his attention into areas Darwin either ignored or avoided. Unlike the retiring Darwin, Wallace was at the forefront of many issues, speaking and writing on many issues. Some of these, as Raby carefully recounts, led him into difficulties, both financial and intellectual.
Raby traces the development of a man who almost beggars analysis. Wallace's life was dogged by near penury due to family commitments and lack of regular employment. His decision to explore the upper Amazon basin was almost an act of desparation, but it led to a lifelong interest in nature and "primitive" people. Overcoming the loss of four years of exploration and study, he recovered deftly with a long-term examination of the East Indies archipelago. Early flirtations with socialist ideals gave him a more sympathetic view of indigenous people than the average Victorian Briton. He adopted a strong sense of independence from authoritarian measures, leading him to oppose land enclosures and vaccination, which he saw as doing more harm than good. The great issue in his later years was spiritualism.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By C. H Smith on February 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
My view of this book falls somewhere between those of the first reviewer, and the most recent one. Raby's organization and style of writing is light, bright and entertaining, and he researched his subject well enough to come up with some tidbits that had not been generally known before--such as the name of the lady who spurned Wallace's advances shortly after he returned from the Malay Archipelago. Some of the photographs he includes are real gems, as well. This is a very good, largely error-free and readable biography if one wishes a general survey of Wallace's life, which was a very impressive one. On the other hand, it is largely a failure as an analytical work. Although Raby in effect summarizes various people's opinions as to what exactly it was that Wallace was about, he offers no fresh insights as to the nature of his thought. Some will argue that it is enough to lay a foundation that will help in getting people to start *thinking* about Wallace's ideas again, but there is not even the hint of a suggestion in this study that we need to do more in this sense than marvel at the man's feats of exploration and fieldwork, decent, inventive character, and range of interests--marvelous as they all were.
I submit that there is in fact a good deal more that needs to be done in unravelling Wallace's worldview. Beyond the fact that he came very close to becoming one of the very most famous scientists in history (and indeed by the end of his life he may well actually have been *the* most famous scientist in the world!), his positions on evolutionary cosmology (as well as on natural selection in particular) have not so much proved to be wrong as they have not (yet) been proved to be right. A few apt theoretical and/or conceptual discoveries could quickly change this.
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