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VINE VOICEon 2 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The book gives us all the surviving letters to and from Wallace during his travels from 1854 to 1862. The letters show him as a collector, a naturalist, a businessman and a family man, so we get an all round picture. Some letters may be of limited interest to the non-naturalist, as they contain little more than a detailed list of specimens although they show the competitive nature of collecting at the time, and some give an insight into the commercial side of collecting. Family letters show his anxiety for his mother's well-being and interest in his brother-in-law's photographic business (as well as developments in photography). Naturally, we also hear of the difficulties of his journey - financial, health, food, travel arrangements - although he doesn't dwell on these overmuch, accepting them as inevitable; having previously collected in the Amazon, he is more or less prepared for anything. We read of his admiration for the French Catholic missionaries and the problem with his untidy assistant; a typical day's collecting experiences and the effects of deforestation; the problem (and expense) of preserving specimens. With the post being so infrequent, he tries to fill the family letters with incident, despite which he occasionally admits he can think of little to say. His instructions about his specimens - which to sell and to whom, which to retain for his private collection, prices expected from sales - are usually detailed, as they are extremely important. As the excellent notes point out, the letters also seem to settle once and for all that Darwin, and not Wallace, was the founding father of evolutionary theory - like many people, I first became aware of Wallace when studying Darwinism. The letters are a valuable insight into the Victorian craze for collecting, but are much more than that, as what emerges is a picture of the force that drove so many Victorians, and made the period so memorable - an irresistible urge to expand the mind by expanding knowledge.
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on 4 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Everything from the mundane day-to-day trials of a traveller in Victorian times to insights into great discoveries, such as the Wallace Line. There’s an amazing contrast between his obvious love and interest in all living things and his main purpose, which was to kill the specimens and preserve them.

The letters clearly show that Wallace and Darwin had a strong mutual respect for each other, and Darwin mentioned his ideas on the origin of species in those letters. Wallace was in fact helping him to gather evidence for those theories, including samples sent back to England.

Far from being a relationship of animosity that has sometimes recently been painted, Darwin was a mentor and although Wallace came up with his idea independently, Darwin was ahead by many years. Actually there is a parallel in the mens’ lives that Wallace was exploring the same science at a similar age that Darwin was when he was on The Beagle.
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VINE VOICEon 23 January 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a book which will appeal perhaps to minority readership. Alfred Russel Wallace was one of the Victorian era's foremost naturalists, whose work in the Malay Archipelago was of just as much relevance as Darwin's, the main difference was that Darwin got in to print first. Not that this was in anyway a race. The two men corresponded and in this volume it is the letters of Wallace which are put up for inspection. The letters contain some very interesting information, not only on naturalist topics but also in a general sense on Victorian travel, postal services and communication in between the United Kingdom and the Dominions. As such they are very interesting to read, but the casual reader may find some of the detail too specialised to hold the interest. Nonetheless this is an interesting volume which is very much an adjunct to Wallace's published volumes on the Malay Archipelago which gained a much more general readership with the Victorian public. An interesting volume, very well presented, which readers with a specialist interest in the subject will find extremely useful.
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on 3 November 2013
I had been looking forward to reading John van Wyhe and Kees Rookmaaker's new book Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago as the adverts for it state that it contains "recently discovered letters". I was keen to see these and add them to our comprehensive online archive of all of Wallace's correspondence, Wallace Letters Online ([...] and was at the same time puzzled by how they had found letters which we had missed! Turning to the list of letters in Appendix 1 of their book which lists the repositories which own the originals of the letters plus other details about them, I saw that 5 letters did not have WCP numbers - the unique identifiers which our Wallace Correspondence Project gives to each letter that we catalogue. Great, I thought, these must be the ones we missed! I was to be disappointed, however, as every one of them was already present in our database, and clearly the authors had simply omitted the WCP numbers for them.

Searching through the book for reference to the Wallace Correspondence Project, I eventually found that the project had been briefly mentioned in the Acknowledgements - but strangely, nowhere in the book is our online archive, Wallace Letters Online, mentioned or its url given. Good scholarship should dictate that it was cited in the book's reference list at least (for no other reason than the fact that our project's "WCP" numbers are given, yet readers will not know what their significance is), but it was not. This 'oversight' is rather ironic given van Wyhe's frequent complaints that scholars do not cite his "Darwin Online" resource in their publications! I also spotted the following misleading statement in the Acknowledgements "..we provided early transcriptions of the letters in this volume to the WCP project." This seems to imply that the transcripts of these letters in Wallace Letters Online, are perhaps based on the transcripts sent to the project by van Wyhe, but this is far from the case. He sent these transcripts to us a long time ago, and they were full of errors and lacked formatting. They were sent in order that he could check that we had no letters that he had missed - not so we could use the transcripts! In fact all of the letters in our online archive were transcribed directly from scans of the originals by our many volunteers - so no thanks are due to van Wyhe and Rookmaaker in this regard! Ironically, the publisher (OUP) even cautioned us against using the transcripts published in the book - despite the fact that the Wallace Literary Estate, which I am a co-executor of, owns the copyright of all of Wallace's unpublished writings. They wrote "Van Wyhe and Rookmaaker's particular interpretation of the letters should not be used by anyone else without applying for permission to OUP." and "The editors' copyright is quite separate...it covers any editorial input, including their interpretations of defaced or illegible words, as well as interpolations, arrangement, and all scholarly apparatus."

Finally, the Wallace Literary Estate, permitted van Wyhe and OUP to publish copyrighted letters written by Wallace for no charge. Normally the Estate would charge a fee for commercial publication of such texts (note that no permission is required for non-commercial publication). Although copyright of these letters is stated in tiny print on the second page of the book, no thanks are given in the Acknowledgements to the Wallace Literary Estate for generously waiving our fees... We weren't even sent a free copy of the book!

These gripes aside, I do think that it is nice to have the letters in 'hard copy' so I would recommend this book. Do bear in mind though, that every letter in it is also present in Wallace Letters Online, and that WLO also contains images of the actual letters, plus other information about them, which this book lacks. To see and read all of Wallace's letters from the Malay Archipelago in Wallace Letters Online go to: [...]
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on 5 November 2015
fascinating letters from an incredble man
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's five years on from the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin. The many books and TV programmes, talks, and other events of 2009, set me off on a journey of reading, watching, listening and the like, which still continues. This collection of Wallace's letters is the latest chapter in that reading.

In some respects this is, perhaps, getting in too deep for someone like me, who is just a generally interested reader rather than an academic specialist. The obsessive level of detail entered into herein is pretty mind-boggling, and perhaps on a par with the activities of the C19th naturalists themselves! All told I prefer the Periplus paperback of The Malay Archipelago my mum bought me a couple of years back, as it's a more satisfying and engaging read than this assortment of letters. However, as David Attenborough points out in his brief introduction, this is interesting material, direct from the 'coal face', so to speak, and from a man coming to similar conclusions as Darwin, one of his correspondents included here, halfway around the other side of the world.

The letters cover Wallace's eight year collecting trip in the Malay Archipelago, and start with a missive to his old school pal, George Silk, written aboard the paddle steamer Euxine, in the Mediterranean. The correspondence covers mail sent to family, friends and those with professional scientific or commercial interests in Wallace's collecting work. I'd have to agree with those other reviewers who find the lists of species a trifle boring to the uniformed layman (they remind me of the lists of birds in Gilbert White's famous book [Title?]). But this is the nitty gritty detail on which the larger theories rest. And then there are the digressions into family matters (advice to friends and relatives on such issues as investments, and suitable homes for elderly relations, etc. Okay they give us a rounded picture of Wallace, but they do bring to my mind that recent catchphrase 'too much information'! As an avid reader of history, and often military history, I did find his occasional thoughts on the Crimean War interesting. But much more involving to a lay reader like me are the sense of adventure, such as when he's worrying about Tigers, getting bogged down in tropical mud, his travails with assistants, or the very touching episode when he rears a baby Orang Utan.

This latter episode (which I also recall being both moving and memorable when encountered in his Malay Archipelago book) is related in a letter to his sister Fanny, in which he deliberately omits the fact that he's talking about a non-human primate. In fact he initially refers to the baby as a 'curious little half nigger', before merrily relating how he has come into a surrogate parental state as a result of killing the infants mother! Whilst his mischievous sense of humour is quite beguiling, much else about this puts the values of the day into an interesting light: whilst Wallace and Darwin have undoubtedly done humanity an immeasurable service in most respects, chiefly by advancing our understanding, they remained men of their times (albeit more enlightened men than most). Some of their assumptions, from the casual racism of paternalist imperialism to the very materialistic Victorian acquisitiveness of the whole C19th scientific enterprise - to understand nature through ownership, by collecting and cataloging it (killing it in vast numbers in the process) - can look somewhat troubling in retrospect.

One of the things the authors are keen to assert through this publication is Darwin's priority over Wallace, a theme they go into in several places, getting quite particular about travel and postal dates, and consequently going into the labyrinthine details of the P&O Southampton to Singapore mail service, etc! So, a very handsomely presented (there are pictures of most correspondents, and a selection of colour plates) but mixed bag this, frequently exciting, fascinating or endearing, but perhaps also at times a trifle too detailed or comprehensive for the casual reader further exploring the many tendrils of evolutionary history. For such readers looking to learn more about Wallace I'd recommend the Malay Archipelago as a first stop. But this is all part of a welcome ending of Wallace's undeserved obscurity. Perhaps we can now hope something similar might happen in regards to the The Vestiges and it's author Robert Chambers?*

* Darwin buff Jim Secord has a book out on this subject, called Victorian Sensation.
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on 28 November 2013
Wallace made his livinlg by collecting insects and other creature which he sent back to London for sale. So the book is a mixture of his adventures in the Far East and boring lists of the specimens he collected, all told in the letters he wrote to his family, friends, and colleagues.
I would not buy this book again now that I know he wrote a two volume book on his return to England, intended to be read by the general public.It is called "The Malay Archipelago" and is still available,if you search.
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