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Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology Paperback – December 17, 2003

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From Library Journal

This anthology of excerpts from the basic writings of Alfred Russel Wallace (l823-l913) introduces the reader to his pioneering explorations in natural science and his critical insights into social issues. He is best remembered for codiscovering, independently of Charles Darwin, the mechanism of natural selection to explain the process of organic evolution. Yet as an extensive traveler, astute observer, and avid collector, Wallace also made valuable contributions to entomology, ornithology, biogeography, and anthropology particularly as a result of his long-term research in the Amazon and Malaysia. He focused on insect camouflage and mimicry (especially in butterflies) and described numerous life forms, from the wild orangutan to the birds of paradise. However, after embracing both evolutionary teleology and theistic spiritualism, Wallace claimed that the human species is unique in this dynamic universe. Although he remains in Darwin's shadow, Wallace was an important naturalist during the Victorian age. Edited by Berry, a research associate at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, this excellent book on Wallace's life and thought is recommended for large academic and public libraries. [Coming in September from Oxford University Press is Michael Shermer's In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace. Ed.] H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.
- H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“... this collection of [Wallace’s] writing, each section introduced by relevant remarks on Wallace’s thinking at the time, is enthralling.”—New Scientist

“In Infinite Tropics, Andrew Berry does a wonderful job of excerpting Wallace’s many writings ... Berry tells this story, ‘one of the most celebrated in the history of science’, beautifully.”—Daily Telegraph

“Berry’s anthology of the most important writings ... should be read to appreciate fully the sophistication of Wallace’s biological thought.”—Times Literary Supplement

“Berry’s editorial commentary is succinct, accurate, and generally right to the point, and he has chosen his selections wisely, giving his readers a splendid, if somewhat teasing, glimpse of Wallace’s genius.”—Choice - A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (November 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859844782
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859844786
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,650,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By C. H Smith on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Alfred Russel Wallace was one of the nineteenth century's most brilliant observers of man and nature. He is best known for his working out of the theory of natural selection, and the way his communication to Darwin on the subject propelled the latter into action resulting in his "On the Origin of Species." But Wallace was much more than this, and had interests a good deal more far-ranging than Darwin's. In addition to his natural selection connection, Wallace can reasonably be credited as the founder of the modern school of biogeographic thought, as history's foremost tropical naturalist and field biologist, and as one of the founders of the science of exobiology. So too, he was one of his period's most vocal supporters of spiritualism, a leader of the land nationalization movement, a prominent socialist, and an outspoken supporter of women's suffrage and opponent of mandatory vaccination.
With credentials like these, it is hardly credible that he is as little known today as he is. Certainly his "other man" status viz. Darwin hasn't helped, but neither did he during his own life attempt to draw attention to himself in all these connections. Add to this a perfectly clear and enquiring mind, a bit of naivety, and one of the most uncompromisingly pro-"little guy" understandings of the human condition, and you have a personality who is much overdue for re-examination.
Berry's anthology continues (but does not end) the recent Wallace renaissance. Berry has done a remarkable job of covering the range of Wallace's interests in just one volume, though to do so he has had to provide excerpts rather than whole works (with the exception of two or three of Wallace's most famous essays). He has also gotten the history right, and provided an editorial narrative that is mostly right on target, and pleasantly composed. If you are the kind of person who likes adventures in the realms of logical and sympathetic thinking, you'll love this collection!
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Format: Hardcover
This excellent collection of Wallace's writings, interspersed with commentary and vignettes by the editor, is very well done and a welcome addition to the literature about/by Wallace. The relationship, or 'delicate arrangement', between Wallace and Darwin, and the triggering of Darwin's book by the Ternate paper, is one of the strange and scandalous mysteries of the evolution of science, and a tale seldom told straight, in a tradition too many wish to fix with their own agendas and unable to quite handle the unconforming Wallace (cf. Brackman's A Delicate Arrangement). The Darwinians simply don't get it. The text contains a selection of Wallace's spiritualist views, and while these are caught up in the confusions of the first discredited 'new age' and theosophical movements of the nineteenth century and helped to discredit him, they do register Wallace's deeper insight finally than Darwin's into the problems in evolutionary theory, taken as a thesis about natural selection. Noone seems to grasp that Wallace not only co-discovered selectionist evolution, but was able to see the catch in the resulting account of the descent of man, which is the emergence of potential, not explicable in terms of adaptation. Someday the world will catch up with Wallace.
This fine book is slightly marred with Gould's tendentious remarks about Wallace in a short preface. If Wallace's reputation suffers it is partly because the Darwinian establishment keeps him in a box, witness this preface with its polite sideswiping. I hope it will increase sales with Gould's name and that readers will skip the preface for the book. Gould was quietly nervous about this aspect of his Darwin obsessiveness.
It is a mystery if ever there was one.
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Format: Paperback
Andrew Berry has brought together an excellent collection of the writings of Alfred Russel Wallace. The selection covers Wallace's career as a widely-travelling professional collector of plants and animals, as a naturalist, and as a scientific theorist. It also covers his political views and his later belief in spiritualism.

Wallace is best known for coming up with the theory of evolution by natural selection independently from Darwin. He certainly deserves credit for this, but nobody should take seriously the ridiculous conspiracy theory which claims that Darwin stole the theory of natural selection from Wallace.

Wallace himself was always happy to play second fiddle to Darwin. For example, in 1908 Wallace made a speech to the Linnaean Society in which he explicitly defended Darwin's priority, pointing out that "...the idea occurred to Darwin in October 1838, nearly twenty years earlier than to myself (in February 1858); and that during the whole of that twenty years he had been laboriously collecting evidence..."

Darwin's notebooks from the 1830s and his essays of 1842 and 1844 show that Darwin had developed his theory long before he published "On the Origin of Species" and long before Wallace had his brainwave.

Wallace was an admirable character. He did not have the advantages of wealth that Darwin had; he was a socialist (of sorts) who had progressive views on many issues; and his attitude towards native peoples was unusually enlightened for an era when racism was rife.

Wallace also disagreed (later in his life, at least) with Darwin’s mistaken decision to allow into his evolutionary theory a subsidiary role for the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
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