- Series: Comstock Book
- Paperback: 234 pages
- Publisher: Cornell University Press (September 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801484979
- ISBN-13: 978-0801484971
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,371,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Where Worlds Collide: The Wallace Line (Comstock Book)
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However, 2 big problems make this reader want to offer up a warning and they brought this rating down to 3 stars.
1: As other reviewers have noted, the point of view in the book seems to change haphazardly, and sometimes it detracts from the context (e.g. lengthy quotes from A.R.W blend in with words from the author with no segue). Also, a disclaimer in the book states that the author will use dramatic license when portraying Wallace - this was infrequent (thankfully), but really came off as hokey and detracted from the scientific and historical credibility.
2: Much of the science (especially biological components) was out of date (even for the publication year) or just plain wrong. The very critical Amazon reviewer seemed to be splitting hairs (and only in regards to the epilogue). This reader noticed glaring errors when dealing with the taxonomic and systematic biology of the book. The author seemed very strong on the geology, much less so with the biology (example - mammoths and mastodons are NOT closely related to each other; the book states that one was the progenitor of the other).
Again, this book WAS worth the read. The problems with tense and POV were only annoying, but mostly overlooked. Luckily, also, since the book has a relatively good bibliography, some of the scientific errors were fun to debunk with cross-referencing.
Trust yourself, check facts in the book which sound fishy, and have fun with it!
Given the extent to which scientists seem to treat differing opinions (or sometimes the same opinion expressed differently) as an excuse for language that in old Charleston would have immediately got them challenged to a duel, it is also pleasant to find out that Wallace and Darwin, now generally regarded as the twin fathers of evolutionary theory, not only got along well but even traded information, in spite of the fact that Darwin was usually in England and Wallace was usually in a reed hut somewhere in Indonesia.
The major drawback to the book, which kept me from giving it five stars, is that Ms. van Oosterzee suffers somewhat from a lack of focus, leaping from geo-zoology to plate tectonics to Wallace's own life to the eruption of Krakatau and back - it might have worked better had she devoted a chapter to each topic rather than jumping around so much.
It is a basic, general overview of the fauna, flora and environment of the Indo-Malayan archipelago, relying heavily on quotes from Wallace's classic "The Malay Archipelago".
If you have never read anything better, you may find it interesting.
However, if you already know a little bit about this region, not to mention if you have been there yourself, several outrageous factual errors will hit the eye.
These are most obvious in the Epilogue, where the author enthusiastically describes her very limited "field-experience" in this region, and tries to add her own 2 cents' to the material gathered from books by others.
Reading that chapter, it also becomes obvious that her only first-hand experience in this region was taking a short cruise trip around the Moluccas. She barely stops even at those islands where her ship passed, yet is quick to make far-reaching conclusions.
On page 219:
"On the nearby Kai islands... my heart sank as I saw that coarse grass now dominates the hills that Wallace desribed as inexpressibly beautiful... No-one will know what biological treasures existed there."
Well, had she bothered to take a short boat trip from Tual, the capital of the Kai Islands, to the larger island of Kai Besar, she would have found forest and fauna largely intact. But if one only visits the major town on a smaller isle...
On page 218:
"Seram is perhaps the only place in South-East Asia where you can walk continuously through undisturbed lowland forest..."
For all the qualities of the relatively small island of Seram, there are far greater expanses of rainforest on the great islands of Sumatra, Borneo, etc.
On page 220, she claims:
"In Sarawak, where Wallace 'collected his Orang-utans, no Orang-Utans exist any more."
The orangutan is probably the single best-documented species in the entire region, and an estimated thousand of them are still found in Sarawak's Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and Batang Ai National Park (which I have visited myself). Being so far off the mark with such a well-known species will leave you wondering how correct the rest of her 'information' is...
Reading all this nonsense, I started looking for references to the qualifications of the author in the book.
I found no reference to any...