Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life

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Princeton University Press, 2002 - Biography & Autobiography - 344 pages

In 1858, Alfred Russel Wallace, aged thirty-five, weak with malaria, isolated in the Spice Islands, wrote to Charles Darwin: he had, he said excitedly, worked out a theory of natural selection. Darwin was aghast--his work of decades was about to be scooped. Within two weeks, his outline and Wallace's paper were presented jointly in London. A year later, with Wallace still on the opposite side of the globe, Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

This new biography of Wallace traces the development of one of the most remarkable scientific travelers, naturalists, and thinkers of the nineteenth century. With vigor and sensitivity, Peter Raby reveals his subject as a courageous, unconventional explorer and a man of exceptional humanity. He draws more extensively on Wallace's correspondence than has any previous biographer and offers a revealing yet balanced account of the relationship between Wallace and Darwin.

Wallace lacked Darwin's advantages. A largely self-educated native of Wales, he spent four years in the Amazon in his mid-twenties collecting specimens for museums and wealthy patrons, only to lose his finds in a shipboard fire in the mid-Atlantic. He vowed never to travel again. Yet two years later he was off to the East Indies on a vast eight-year trek; here he discovered countless species and identified the point of divide between Asian and Australian fauna, 'Wallace's Line.'

After his return, he plunged into numerous controversies and published regularly until his death at the age of ninety, in 1913. He penned a classic volume on his travels, founded the discipline of biogeography, promoted natural selection, and produced a distinctive account of mind and consciousness in man. Sensitive and self-effacing, he was an ardent socialist--and spiritualist. Wallace is one of the neglected giants of the history of science and ideas. This stirring biography--the first for many years--puts him back at center stage, where he belongs.


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User Review  - pbjwelch - LibraryThing

I read this biography of Wallace while simultaneously reading Wallace's Malay Archipelago. At first, I thought the two were redundant and I was about to abandon the Raby volume, but after a slow start ... Read full review


The Evolution of a Naturalist
Apprenticeship on the Amazon
View of Santarem Richard Spruce Notes of a Botanist
Hunting the White Umbrella Bird
A malocca
Planning the Next Expedition
Sugar palm Arenga saccharifera Wallace Natural History
The Return of the Wanderer
Wallace Transformed
Man and Mind
The Big Trees
The Future of the Race
The Last Orchard
The Old Hero

The Land of the Orangutan
Heading East
In Search of Paradise Birds
The Red Bird of Paradise Wallace The Malay Archipelago
Sources and Selected Bibliography

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About the author (2002)

Peter Raby lectures in Drama and English at Homerton College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of the widely praised biography Samuel Butler, Bright Paradise: Victorian Scientific Travellers (Princeton), Fair Ophelia: A Life of Harriet Smithson Berlioz, and Aubrey Beardsley and the 1890s. He also writes extensively on theater and is editor of The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde and The Cambridge Companion to Pinter (forthcoming).

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