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Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species Hardcover – 3 Jun 2014
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This engaging and very accessible book is the most comprehensive, insightful and well-balanced account of the development of Wallace's early evolutionary thinking ever written. Everyone with an interest in the history of evolutionary biology should read it. Although it does much to raise Wallace's profile, it does nothing to diminish Darwin's reputation or achievements.--George Beccaloni, Curator of Orthopteroid Insects and Director of the A.R. Wallace Correspondence Project, Natural History Museum, London
[Costa] annotates a facsimile of the 1855 Wallace paper known as the Sarawak law, an important precursor to the essay On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type, which Darwin received from Wallace in 1858. That manuscript forced the question of a mechanism for evolution into the open. Costa s nuanced and well-documented reading of this episode, as well as Wallace s contributions and his relationship with Darwin, is a gift for any scientist s bookshelf.--Kevin Padian"Nature" (08/07/2015)"
In this deeply absorbing book, James T. Costa seeks to establish Alfred Russel Wallace as the fully vested co-creator of what he feels we should once again call the Darwin Wallace Theory of evolution by natural selection Costa [is] the best possible guide to Wallace s meandering mind.--Christopher Irmscher"Weekly Standard" (04/06/2015)"
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 1913) and Charles Darwin (1809 82) arrived at many of the same ideas about natural selection at almost precisely the same time while in correspondence with each other. Darwin s publication of his theories made him a legend, but Wallace has been mostly relegated to a footnote in the history books. Here Costa hopes to remedy that imbalance, recounting and analyzing Wallace s life and work with the ease and familiarity befitting one who edited and prepared the naturalist s previously unpublished Species Notebook. The author attempts to pin down Wallace s inner life and thought processes through painstaking textual analysis of his subject s reading material, correspondence, notebooks, and publications, as well as some of Darwin s.--Kate Horowitz"Library Journal" (04/15/2014)"
A marvelously fresh and clear explanation of the joint announcement of evolution by natural selection and an illuminating comparison of Wallace's and Darwin's theories. Throughout, Costa gives Wallace his biological due and more.--Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science and Chair of the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University
[Costa] annotates a facsimile of the 1855 Wallace paper known as the Sarawak law, an important precursor to the essay 'On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type, ' which Darwin received from Wallace in 1858. That manuscript forced the question of a mechanism for evolution into the open. Costa's nuanced and well-documented reading of this episode, as well as Wallace's contributions and his relationship with Darwin, is a gift for any scientist's bookshelf.--Kevin Padian"Nature" (08/07/2015)
In this deeply absorbing book, James T. Costa seeks to establish Alfred Russel Wallace as the fully vested co-creator of what he feels we should once again call the 'Darwin-Wallace Theory' of evolution by natural selection... Costa [is] the best possible guide to Wallace's meandering mind.--Christopher Irmscher"Weekly Standard" (04/06/2015)
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) and Charles Darwin (1809-82) arrived at many of the same ideas about natural selection at almost precisely the same time while in correspondence with each other. Darwin's publication of his theories made him a legend, but Wallace has been mostly relegated to a footnote in the history books. Here Costa hopes to remedy that imbalance, recounting and analyzing Wallace's life and work with the ease and familiarity befitting one who edited and prepared the naturalist's previously unpublished Species Notebook. The author attempts to pin down Wallace's inner life and thought processes through painstaking textual analysis of his subject's reading material, correspondence, notebooks, and publications, as well as some of Darwin's.--Kate Horowitz"Library Journal" (04/15/2014)
About the Author
James T. Costa is Executive Director of Highlands Biological Station and Professor of Biology at Western Carolina University.
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The volume commences with a short bio of Wallace by Andrew Berry. More background is provided by the author in his 14 page introduction. Chapter I really digs into Wallace's incredible scientific discoveries as he collected specimens of animal life in Southeast Asia (including Borneo); Wallace earned his living by selling these specimens to scientists and collectors in Britain primarily. During this period, Wallace, though not professionally trained, authored a number of important papers including his Sarawak Law paper on species divergence in 1855. As early as 1856 he had developed tree diagrams of species development, which technique Darwin also employed. The two naturalists exchanged some letters in which Darwin encouraged Wallace in his studies. So when in 1858, Wallace had a sudden flash of insight which led to him developing a variation of natural selection, it was natural for him to write up his findings and dispatch the paper from the Malay Archipelago to Darwin in Kent and seek his assistance in getting the paper published. Darwin had earlier developed his own concept of natural selection, but hesitated to publish without generating further supportive data. So Wallace's letter sent him into a panic for fear that his position as the progenitor of evolutionary theory would be snatched away by Wallace. In the end both papers were published together and hence the two scientists were seen as co-discoverers of natural selection. Whether this procedure was entirely fair to Wallace is one issue the author discusses in detail toward the end of the book.
Chapter II looks at how Wallace conducted his research and built his theory. According to the author, Wallace was "consilient", in that he sought to develop multiple pathways of evidence supporting his natural selection theory. An interesting chapter discusses the striking key similarities in theorizing manifested by both Darwin and Wallace working independently and without contact. Chapter IV takes a look and compares the key papers written by Darwin and Wallace, including Wallace's "Sarawak Law" paper (1855) and the two published together in 1858 announcing their independent findings regarding natural selection. The author employs the same effective technique as he uses in the two annotated volumes mentioned above: photo reproduction of a page of text, highlighted with bold numbers, with the explanation for each bold number discussed in detail on the opposing page. In chapter V, the author intensively compares the two 1858 papers and explores some "striking coincidences" (i.e., "parallels and intersections") manifested in these two independent efforts.
Chapter VI is devoted to the so-called "Darwin Conspiracy." That is, did Darwin upon receipt of Wallace's paper steal ideas from it, and was it fair to publish the two papers together given that Wallace's effort had been the first written when received by Darwin? Did the fact that two friends of Darwin arranged for the joint publication of the papers without consulting Wallace, with Darwin's paper presented as the first of the two, deprive Wallace of his rightful position as the discoverer of natural selection? After a meticulous examination of the facts, including constructing timeline charts, the author rejects these assertions, but does conclude it would have been fairer to Wallace to have consulted him before jointly publishing the papers. Since it took many months for mail to reach Wallace, I don't know how practical this observation is. But no doubt the controversy will continue.
In a final "Coda", the author discusses the fact that after his death, the momentum for Darwin's evolutionary theories diminished because he was never able to explain what caused changes in animals that precipitated natural selection. However, modern genetics theory was discovered and provided the missing element, as explained by Julian Huxley among others in the early 20th century. Some interesting appendices and a bibliography finish out the volume. Simply a work of exceptional value and insight and absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in Darwin, Wallace or the theory of natural selection.
Partly thanks to Costa's research and labors, Wallace is emerging ever more clearly from the relative obscurity that has been his lot since 1858 or so when he arrived at the theory of evolution and the mechanism of natural selection on his own, independently of Charles Darwin. Fascinatingly, both his "consilient" analysis of various lines of evidence and his conclusions are strikingly similar to Darwin's. Thus, there is a solid body of evidence and analysis that shows how evolution was discovered independently by more than one gifted scientific thinker in the mid- to late 19th century. In short, the theory of evolution cannot be attributed solely to Charles Darwin.
Wallace, like some of the other great naturalists of the day (i.e., Darwin, T.H. Huxley, and Joseph Hooker), undertook lengthy voyages to exotic places; their observations and collections of specimens furnished much of the empirical basis for a revolution in scientific thought. (I was reminded of Iain McCalman's recent book, "Darwin's Armada: Four Voyagers to the Southern Oceans and Their Battle for the Theory of Evolution," also published as "Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution.")
Unlike Darwin, Wallace was not endowed with social standing or wealth. Nevertheless, he was possessed of energy, perseverance, resourcefulness, and above all, a bold intellect, which enabled him to make remarkable contributions to science. Wallace credited his conversion to transmutation (evolution) to having read the influential 1798 "Essay on Population" by Thomas Robert Malthus. Notably, Darwin also found Malthus' idea of the struggle for existence to be a major force in shaping his own thinking. Also important was Robert Chambers' book "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," which despite its creativity was largely based on unscientific speculation. Both men, moreover, were very familiar with Charles Lyell's powerful tome, "Principles of Geology," which attempted to refute transmutation almost point by point.
Costa has already prepared a splendid version of Wallace's "Species Notebook" for the period of intellectual ferment that led to his discovering evolution and the process by which it occurs, which Darwin named natural selection. This volume, entitled "On the Organic Law of Change: A Facsimile Edition and Annotated Transcription of Alfred Russel Wallace's Species Notebook of 1855-1859," was published in 2013 by Harvard University Press. It provides much of the raw material for the present book and anyone who has an interest in this field would be well-advised to read both.
"Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species" is a well-researched and imaginatively prepared study of the work Wallace did that brought him to develop the theory of evolution, and a comparison of Wallace's analysis and ideas with those of Darwin, noting where they agreed and where they did not. It also examines evidence bearing on whether Wallace was wronged by Darwin or his colleagues and deprived of the recognition to which he was entitled. Among the most interesting features of this book are the extensive annotations, often presented next to facsimile pages from papers by Wallace and Darwin, tables showing where the men agreed and disagreed, a chronology of events and evidence relating to the reception of Wallace's 1858 Ternate essay by Darwin and the ensuing actions of Lyell and Hooker, materials reflecting how many times Darwin took credit for what he called "my theory," and how Darwin's reputation has largely eclipsed Wallace's.
The book begins with a short account of the life of Wallace, explaining how he came to the Malay Archipelago and his activities there during the formative years when he began to make his great discoveries prior to his return to England. It follows with discussion of Wallace's major contributions, how these compare with Darwin's own efforts and analysis, and what befell them. Wallace's initial major breakthrough was formulated as the "Sarawak Law," which he published in a paper of 1855: "Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species." In itself, this idea cast doubt on the time-honored notion that every species is specially created by a deity to satisfy a particular purpose. After all, if every species is specially created for its own unique contribution to the world, why is it so apparent that similar ("closely allied" and pre-existing) life forms inhabit or once inhabited nearby places, and arose in close temporal proximity to each other?
Alas, Wallace's 1855 paper did not get much attention. Nevertheless, Wallace was determined to solve the mystery of species origin. By 1858, he had arrived at the means by which this process takes place, which, though he did not name it, was what Darwin called natural selection. In a paper known as the Ternate essay, Wallace laid out the arguments for evolution, drawing on lines of analysis from the notion of the struggle for existence, variation and its effects, the apparent balance of or harmony in nature, geometrical increase in population size and population pressure, checks on population and the action of selection, geological and/or environmental change, time, and the analogy to the branching of a tree to show the divergence of life forms. Not caring to have his work relegated to obscurity again, Wallace sent his essay to Charles Darwin, a man he felt sure would understand and appreciate it.
Darwin, indeed, was almost overwhelmed. Although he had discovered natural selection in 1838, Darwin had meantime been painstakingly gathering more data, analyzing his ideas and working through their implications, and cross-examining his own theory. On reading Wallace's essay, Darwin reacted, "I never saw a more striking coincidence; if Wallace had my MS. sketch written out in 1842, he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as heads of my chapters...So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed."
It is here the controversy arose. Confiding to Lyell and Hooker his concerns about his own claim to priority, Darwin was nevertheless conscience-stricken. Making matters worse, one of his sons was mortally ill and would shortly die. Lyell and Hooker decided to present Wallace's paper to the Linnean Society with two short pieces by Darwin, though without explaining the full situation to or consulting with Wallace. Whether he was as elated as he sounded, Wallace nevertheless expressed profound gratitude that such notables had presented his work to a scientific body. He felt his future was assured.
Darwin, meanwhile, had decided he had better get his ideas into print. With great energy he completed what would become the first edition of "On the Origin of Species" and saw it published in November 1859. Darwin sent a complimentary copy to Wallace, who wrote to his friend George Silk that he read it through five or six times, each time with increasing admiration. With effusive praise, he compared Darwin with Newton, saying he had given the world a "new science" and exclaiming, "The force of admiration can no further go!!!"
Costa conscientiously scrutinizes and discusses the evidence and scholarly analyses that are available concerning these events. He even lists the documents that, while highly relevant, are missing, and discusses the inferences that can nevertheless be drawn from the evidence we do have. He ultimately seems to absolve Darwin of any intellectual dishonesty, though he also seems to feel Lyell and Hooker were motivated more by loyalty to Darwin than by a strict sense of fair play in taking the actions they did. In an extensive closing section, Costa discusses what might have been, and argues persuasively for affording Wallace more of the recognition that is justly his due. Noting Wallace did not do himself any favors among his scientific colleagues by his open embrace of spiritualism, to say nothing of his advocacy of social causes ranging from immunization to consumer protection and land reform, Costa makes an impressive case for Wallace, who emerges as a robust, passionate and brilliant thinker whose reputation deserves to be much greater than it is. Costa is to be congratulated on having written this thoroughly engrossing and well-prepared book. It should be read eagerly by anyone interested in evolution or the history of science.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 24, 2014 9:46 AM PDT
Costa's conclusions that the discoveries were independent and that both men were terrific scientists were not surprising, and, for the reader, his detailed comparisons of the writings of Wallace and Darwin will probably feel like too much of a good thing. Yes, Wallace was brilliant and deserves more credit for the theory of evolution than he usually gets. He was, in fact, an admirable fellow, years ahead of the rest of humanity as an advocate for civil liberties, women's rights, and social justice for the poor and for the indigenous people of European colonies. Wallace's scientific versatility was impressive. His unfortunate support of spiritualism late in life should not be held too much against him.
Darwin might have been a bit manipulative in ensuring that he himself got proper credit for the unpublished work he had been doing for many years before Wallace hit on the idea of natural selection and very nearly scooped him. Given Darwin's lifelong commitment to the collection and examination of evidence, we can hardly condemn him for wanting to claim appropriate credi for his achievement.
But we knew all that before reading this fine book. After reading the book, we are incrementally more certain that our admiration for Wallace (and for Darwin) is justified.
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