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In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History [Kindle Edition]

Michael Shermer
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Virtually unknown today, Alfred Russel Wallace was the co-discoverer of natural selection with Charles Darwin and an eminent scientist who stood out among his Victorian peers as a man of formidable mind and equally outsized personality. Now Michael Shermer rescues Wallace from the shadow of Darwin in this landmark biography.
Here we see Wallace as perhaps the greatest naturalist of his age--spending years in remote jungles, collecting astounding quantities of specimens, writing thoughtfully and with bemused detachment at his reception in places where no white man had ever gone. Here, too, is his supple and forceful intelligence at work, grappling with such arcane problems as the bright coloration of caterpillars, or shaping his 1858 paper on natural selection that prompted Darwin to publish (with Wallace) the first paper outlining the theory of evolution. Shermer also shows that Wallace's self-trained intellect, while powerful, also embraced surprisingly naive ideas, such as his deep interest in the study of spiritual manifestations and seances. Shermer shows that the same iconoclastic outlook that led him to overturn scientific orthodoxy as he worked in relative isolation also led him to embrace irrational beliefs, and thus tarnish his reputation.
As author of Why People Believe Weird Things and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, Shermer is an authority on why people embrace the irrational. Now he turns his keen judgment and incisive analysis to Wallace's life and his contradictory beliefs, restoring a leading figure in the rise of modern science to his rightful place.


Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Wallace is nearly unknown today, but he was revered as one of the preeminent naturalists of the Victorian age. Accorded the rank of "codiscoverer" of the theory of natural selection (ranking second only to Charles Darwin), Wallace spent twice as much time as Darwin collecting specimens during ocean voyages and in remote jungles. What he didn't do was devote years formulating his observations into evolutionary theory; instead, he started with the theory of natural selection and then set about finding the data to prove it. It was his initial draft that spurred Darwin to publish, without further delay, his first paper outlining the theory of evolution. This new biography details the distinct differences in their viewpoints of natural selection. Despite Wallace's tremendous intellect and contributions to science, his foray into and support of spiritualism, s‚ances, and phrenology tarnished his credibility and standing. Shermer is founding publisher and editor in chief of Skeptic magazine, the author of several popular science books, and considered an authority on the heretical personality. His expertise in analyzing the life and paradoxical beliefs of this complex man elevate "the last great Victorian" to a position of prominence as one of the significant leaders in modern science. Highly recommended for all academic and larger public library science collections. Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City, MO
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Last year, Peter Raby's Alfred Russell Wallace [BKL Ag 01] offered a deeply sympathetic portrait of the controversial co-discoverer of natural selection, largely accepting him on his own eccentric terms. Now, in this complementary study, the editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine applies the tools of objective science to probe the enigmatic psychology of this pioneering thinker, who embarrassed many of his professional colleagues by entangling himself in both radical politics and bizarre spiritualism. Sociological theories of birth order, social class, and parental separation hint at why Wallace developed a heretic personality, attracted to subversive science (evolution), to outre religion (spiritualism), and radical politics (gender and racial egalitarianism). Though this theoretical framework does clarify and unify the disparate elements of Wallace's life, the scientist's admirers may protest that it reduces Wallace to merely another case study in irrationalism. But other readers will applaud Shermer for the toughmindedness necessary to sever Wallace's laudable openmindedness in doing biology or advancing political causes from his dubious naivete in frequenting the seance. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 3721 KB
  • Print Length: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 9, 2002)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00650R41C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #649,787 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continuing Prelude October 5, 2002
Format:Hardcover
Michael Shermer's study of Wallace contributes to the recent rise of interest in this fascinating Victorian scientist by presenting a fair-minded biographical account, while attempting to analyze the various components of Wallace's personality through various objective methods. The results are interesting and well worth digesting, but there are still weaknesses in the treatment that have the effect of leading us down blind alleys. To begin with, Shermer has relatively little to say about Wallace's science, and how it has (and hasn't) affected more recent thought. This is a critical matter, because the most important thing about Wallace is the level of prescience he exhibited in dealing with both scientific and social subjects. A wholly successful biography of Wallace cannot be just a biography (as in the case of the recent, and very nice *written*, one by Peter Raby), it must be an analysis of his *ideas*. This Shermer does not attempt to do, partly because he is not a scientist, and partly because he has the good sense to realize that any such effort that will stand the test of time will not be possible for a good long time yet. Instead, he concentrates on establishing a psychological profile of Wallace, based largely on meta-data approaches developed by Frank Sulloway. The profile Shermer comes up with, that of the "heretic scientist," is interesting in a descriptive sort of way (assuming one believes the approach is well-advised in the case of someone as unusual as Wallace to begin with, and many knowledgeable observers, including ones interviewed by Shermer in the book, don't think it is), but in the end tells us almost nothing about the man's actual accomplishments, or why we need continue delving into them. Read more ›
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The new phrenologists? May 24, 2003
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book rather in spite of than because of the other Amazon reviews, and lugged it with me on a flight out to the West Coast. The book lasted from Boston to Atlanta, and when it was over I closed it with a sigh of relief. While Shermer is certainly at times an engaging writer here he indulges in a rather peculiar form of quantitative psycho-history mixed in with the equally peculiar allocation of behavioural traits to birth order. There MAY be something in this somewhere, but at the same time it smacks of the 19th century Victorian fetish about cranial measurments that Shermer's evident hero-mentor Stephen Gould took to task in THE MISMEASURE OF MAN. That Shermer is so obsessed with his methodologies (he devotes a substantial portion of the book to 'how he did it") is a shame because it lessens and weakens his focus on his putative topic, the fascinating Alfred Wallace. Instead of really delving intoWallace's background and early experiences we get a few pages of quick gloss intertwined with what frankly struck me as mumbo-jumbo about what it means to be a Younger Child. This may be all very new Age & Hip right now, but I strongly doubt it will prove to have much in the way of scholarly legs. Then there is the tedious re-hashing of Gould's speculations which other reviewers have already re-hashed. Yup, they are old, they are trite, and can we please now move on? Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the discussion of Wallace's involvement with various "Spiritualist" frauds during the second half of his career. Here the writing really picks up & one has the sense that "aha, now we are going to get somewhere". Alas, the excitement soon fades & the book itself fades out to a gentle glow at the end. i really don't know how to categorize this text. Read more ›
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars "In Darwin's Shadow" aptly titled June 19, 2009
Format:Hardcover
Michael Shermer's attempt at analyzing the life and work of Wallace falls short on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. One thing is sure, he has done more to darken the shadow than lift it from, arguably next to Darwin, Victorian England's greatest naturalist.

Shermer's attempt to identify Wallace as a "heretic personality" is vague and inconsistly applied. The claim that Wallace succumbed to scientism is so wide of the mark that once the astonishment of the claim wears off one is left wondering if Shermer ever really read Wallace!

This is simply the worst of an increasing number of Wallace biographies. Ill conceived and poorly argued, for those seeking to know this fascinating naturalist better almost any starting place would be better than here. My suggestion? Start with Wallace himself, MY LIFE: A Record of Events and Opinion.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cursing the darkness April 27, 2003
Format:Hardcover
Restoring Albert Russell Wallace's reputation is an occasional occupation with historians. Some wish to elevate him over Darwin, usually on the question of "priority" - who first thought up evolution by natural selection? Others portray him as the victim of Britain's class structure - doomed to obscurity because of his humble background. Shermer, although the title implies otherwise, makes an attempt to reconcile Darwin and Wallace, at least over natural selection. From that point, Shermer follows Wallace through a complex life. This readable, if somewhat shallow, biography does Wallace justice, but at the cost of shedding the broader context. In support of his programme, he relies heavily on Frank Sulloway's research on "birth-order" and creativity. This innovative study has had a rocky career, but Shermer finds it useful. For him, the findings have meaning, but their validity remains unclear. Especially when comparing but two subjects.
Wallace was a complicated personality, perhaps even more so than Darwin himself. In order to build a coherent image of his subject, Shermer creates a "historical matrix model". This is a three-dimensional visual aid of the elements he's utilising in erecting Wallace's biography. Mixing time, Wallace's various excursions and interests, Shermer ties the whole structure to his subject's views on evolution of humanity and the mind. Whether this method works may depend on your attitude about applying mathematical structures to a man's life. Fortunately for readability, Shermer keeps the application of this device at a low key, saving his analytical summation to the end of the book - where it falls flat.
Shermer traces the voyages Wallace was virtually forced to undertake.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Alfred Wallace was the co-discoverer of the theory of evoution, lesser known than Charles Darwin, but of the same caliber. Read more
Published 11 months ago by A. Simon
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadfully Biased and Desperate Darwinian Flim Flam
I cannot help but wonder what on Earth the founder of the Skeptics Society is up to in deploying utter flim-flam to dispose of the problem of Patrick Matthew's (1831) prior... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Dr Mike Sutton
3.0 out of 5 stars Oxford University Press pricing!
Others have commented on the contents, so I will comment on production values. The book is nicely produced, with a generous supply of useful illustrations. BUT! Read more
Published on June 6, 2009 by Little Teacher on the Prarie
4.0 out of 5 stars Wallace matters, so this book matters
I felt I got a well-rounded view of Wallace as a person from this book. And I felt the treatment was fair, fairer than I expected from an arch-skeptic of and enemy of anything... Read more
Published on February 15, 2008 by Shaun Johnston
3.0 out of 5 stars Darwin forever under a cloud....
After reading a review in NY review of books of Shermer's book I snapped out of my previous opinion and decided to revise my previous review here. Read more
Published on November 29, 2003 by John C. Landon
4.0 out of 5 stars In the shadow no longer
Alfred Russel Wallace seems to rate hardly more than a footnote in the history of the theory of evolution. Read more
Published on November 16, 2003 by Atheen
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting biography
A nice story of the scientist who came to a similar conclusion about natural history as his elder and more famous colleague, Darwin. Read more
Published on June 9, 2003 by Douglas O'Neal
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-rounded bio.
Interesting read of Wallace, co-founder of the theory of evolution.
This book details Wallace's relationship with Darwin, his own evolutionary theory which 'evolved' toward... Read more
Published on February 26, 2003 by G. James
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicate arrangements
This an important and readable contribution to the biographical lore of Alfred Wallace, the co-discoverer with Darwin of the selectionist theory of evolution, and later a dissenter... Read more
Published on August 8, 2002 by John C. Landon
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More About the Author

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com) and the Director of The Skeptics Society. He is a Visiting Associate at the California Institute of Technology, and hosts the Skeptics Lecture Series at Cal Tech. He has authored several popular books on science, scientific history, and the philosophy and history of science, including Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, and Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (with Alex Grobman). Shermer is also a radio personality and the host of the Fox Family Channel's Exploring the Unknown. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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