- Paperback: 444 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 25, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199856532
- ISBN-13: 978-0199856534
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,547,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History 1st Edition
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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, sances, 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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Shermer has done a superb job of researching the life of Wallace. This book is very readable. It should appeal to anyone who is interested in the topic of evolution, but just as importantly (if not more so) on the topic of science itself, on scientific methods, the history of science and the philosophy f science. It also illuminates the zeitgeist during Darwin and Wallace's days.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It is very good.
In many ways A. R. Wallace, though not a formally educated man, was more of a research scientist than Darwin. He apparently plunged into the pursuit of regional studies with a vengeance for most of his youth, some twelve years abroad, studying natural subjects in their native habitat. Whether it was beetles in the tropics, indigenous people in their native and in their European dominated settings, the communities of animals characteristic of different regions in Southeast Asia, or the geology of various regions, etc, his studies were extensive and detailed. According to Shermer, he logged in over 20,000 miles on various collecting trips, and just on his Malay trip collected almost 125,000 specimens, over a thousand of which were new species (p. 14).
His reputation for openness and exposure to new experiences was amazing, especially for the day, and recognized even by those who did not necessarily agree with his opinions. His written output was prolific and varied, with topics ranging from ancient history, animal behavior, botany, ethics, history of science, linguistics, plurality of worlds, phrenology, spirtualism, taxonomy, womens rights, agricultural economics, literature and poetry, poor laws, and trade regulation (p. 15). Shermer indicates that even into old age Wallace wrote on a variety of subjects and had a life-time average output that ranks high, even when compared to modern writers like Gould, Sagan, and Ernst Mayr.
While I found Shermer's historical matrix model interesting, I felt that I learned more about how history and biography are created in our own time and what it says about us than I did about Wallace or his contemporaries. The matrix model seems to smack of psychobabble and Oprah "awarenesses" and introduces a lot of introspection into the possible effects of birth order, etc. on behavior. It tries to hard to get at the "whys?" of human behavior and motivation for which there is little proof for or against. It was only once the author got into the life and times of the man himself that I could more easily settle into Wallace's world. For one thing, I understood better what the flap about the man's delving into spiritualism was all about. I also learned where Wallace and Darwin differed, even from the beginning, in their own individual approach to evolution, and why Darwinian evolution is the model that gained the greatest respect and serves as the foundation of modern theories.
I think more than anything, the book introduces the reader to the fact that science is a communal thing, a human thing, and is subject to the vicissitudes of other human endeavors: chance, political and social prejudices, personalities and egos, readiness for new ideas, plain old mistakes, etc. I learned again that scientific discoveries occur in tandem, when the world is ready to receive them, that they're sort of "in the air." I learned that more than one person can come up with the same or similar idea, putting their own personal stamp on the concept, thereby forwarding human knowledge just a little bit more. I learned that scientists can be wrong or partly wrong about their topic and can be wrong or partly wrong about topics outside their expertise, and most importantly, that reputation should not be given total credence without proper thought. Because a person is famous does not mean that their opinions are any more valid than anyone else's.
An enlightening biography of an interesting man. While I think that Darwin's is the more carefully thought out and supported theory of evolution, I think that Wallace was the more interesting and happier person. I suspect it would have been more fun to have known him than to have known Darwin.
I always feel sad when an author like Shermer has the availability of his book limited by a rapacious (or maybe just inefficient?) publisher like OUP.