by Greg Mayer
I should probably have posted something like this earlier, but here are a few recommended books about and by Wallace. It’s an idiosyncratic list, reflecting what was interesting and available to me, but might still be useful as a starting point. Wallace is of course mentioned in many books on the general history of evolution and Darwinism, but the following are works devoted primarily or exclusively to Wallace. I’ll start with a few biographies of Wallace, then a collection of essays, and finally some things written by Wallace himself.
Raby, P. 2001. Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. A well-received biography by a Victorianist interested in scientific travellers, covering the whole of Wallace’s life.
Shermer, M. 2001. In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Another biography, by an author probably more familiar to WEIT readers as the editor of Skeptic magazine and for his efforts in combating pseudoscience. Shermer’s academic credentials are in the history of science, and this book is based on his doctoral dissertation. Although Shermer might not appreciate the comment, I found the book refreshingly free of the sort of semi-quantitative psycho-history that the subtitle threatens.
Wyhe, J. van. 2013. Dispelling the Darkness: Voyage in the Malay Archipelago and the Discovery of Evolution by Wallace and Darwin. World Scientific, Singapore. I’m reading this now, having recently gotten my copy, and hope to say more later. Although briefly covering the whole of Wallace’s life, it concentrates on his time in the Malay Archipelago, which was the most scientifically creative part of his life. Van Wyhe is of course the editor of both Darwin Online and Wallace Online.
Smith, C.H. and G. Beccaloni, eds. 2008. Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace. Oxford University Press, New York. This is a collection of essays edited by Charles Smith, editor of the essential Alfred Russel Wallace Page, and George Beccaloni, who has led the Natural History Museum‘s celebrations of Wallace Year. The essays, by scientists and historians, cover a broad range of historical and scientific issues, everything from a tour of Wallace’s many homes, to his studies of animal coloration, to his fight against vaccination.
For the works of Wallace himself, we can always view the online versions at Wallace Online and the Alfred Russel Wallace Page, or go to a good library, but a number of Wallace’s works are still in print. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites.
Wallace, A. R. 2002. Infinite Tropics: an Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology. A. Berry, ed. Verso, London. Edited by Wallaceophile Andrew Berry, this is a collection of excerpts from throughout Wallace’s writings on a broad range of topics. If you are going to have only one book of Wallace’s writings, and you want to see what he thought about (almost) everything, this is the one.
Wallace, A.R. 1880. Island Life. Macmillan, London. Just reissued by the University of Chicago Press, with commentary by my friend and colleague Larry Heaney of the Field Museum. Larry, well known for his work on Philippine Island mammal faunas, provides an extensive introduction that explicates and puts Wallace’s work in modern context. Being very interested in islands, it was the first of Wallace’s major works that I obtained a copy of for myself (I got the 1892 second edition).
Wallace, Alfred R. 1870. Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection. MacMillan, London. My second Wallace book, obtained in exchange for a six-pack of beer, this is a collection of some of Wallace’s most important papers, including both the “Sarawak paper” and the “Ternate paper“. It was reissued in 2009 by Cambridge University Press.
Wallace, A.R. 1869. The Malay Archipelago: the Land of the Orang-utan, and the Bird of Paradise. Macmillan, London. There are many reissues of this book concerning Wallace’s travel and discoveries in the East Indies. The Dover reprint was long available, but is now out of print; here’s a recent in print edition.
Wallace is just starting to have his letters and notebooks get the same detailed attention that Darwin’s have. Here’s a recent issue of his letters written during his eastern expedition.
Wyhe, J. van, and K. Rookmaaker, eds. 2013. Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago. Oxford University Press, Oxford. This is either just out or will be out soon; I haven’t seen a copy yet.
And finally, one of my favorite individual papers by Wallace, which I give as an assigned reading to my evolutionary biology classes.
Wallace, A. R. 1860. On the zoological geography of the Malay Archipelago. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society: Zoology 4: 172-184. pdf