A giant of the discipline of biogeography and co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace was the most famous naturalist in the world when he died in 1913. To mark the centennial of Wallace's death, James Costa offers an elegant edition of the "Species Notebook" of 1855-1859, which Wallace kept during his legendary expedition in peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia, and western New Guinea. Presented in facsimile with text transcription and annotations, this never-before-published document provides a new window into the travels, personal trials, and scientific genius of the co-discoverer of natural selection.
In one section, headed "Note for Organic Law of Change"--an extended critique of geologist Charles Lyell's anti-evolutionary arguments--Wallace sketches a book he would never write, owing to the unexpected events of 1858. In that year he sent to Charles Darwin an essay announcing his discovery of the mechanism for species change: natural selection. Darwin's friends Lyell and the botanist Joseph Hooker proposed a "delicate arrangement": a joint reading at the Linnean Society of his essay with Darwin's earlier private writings on the subject. Darwin would publish On the Origin of Species in 1859, to much acclaim; pre-empted, Wallace's first book on evolution waited two decades, but by then he had abandoned his original concept.
On the Organic Law of Change realizes in spirit the project Wallace left unfinished, and asserts his stature as not only a founder of biogeography and the preeminent tropical biologist of his day but as Darwin's equal among the pioneers of evolution.
On the Organic Law of Change offers the first detailed analysis of Wallace's 'Species Notebook' by an evolutionary biologist and is the most important study of the development of Wallace's evolutionary ideas attempted by anyone so far. Costa is uniquely placed to have done this work; not only does he have an excellent grasp of evolutionary theory, but he also has a detailed understanding of the early history of the subject including the development of Darwin's ideas about evolution.
A triumph of careful research. The annotations are illuminating in all regards.
Alfred Russel Wallace's 'Species Notebook' is surely one of the most important documents in the history of science. Jim Costa's deft annotations do more than just explain, synthesize, and contextualize this day-to-day account of Wallace at work: they bring his interests and ideas--and Wallace himself--to life. It is truly an unusual privilege to have such a direct view into the workings of an extraordinary mind in the act of formulating some of the most powerful and effective ideas in all of science.
An important new book…The notebook itself is part diary, part field notes and part log of each day's collecting. Its pages are filled with observations, beautiful drawings and daily tallies of specimens. But this is also where Wallace wrote his thoughts, analyzed papers and developed his evolutionary ideas.
Costa’s book is thus the first publication of what has been left to us of Wallace’s intended book; and we owe a debt to him for making it available at last…Wallace was a polymath, to be sure, and probably among the last to be so, which makes him one of the most interesting figures in the history of English-language ideas…You need to read the man for yourself, and Costa’s book provides you with one more important way to do this.
This is a very fine treatment of a complicated story; it benefits from being told by a scientist who understands the biology involved, and who has not taken liberties with documenting the history of Wallace’s thought process. This may well be the best single overview of this important episode in the history of thought yet produced, and I highly recommend it.
Let me say it right up front: I love this book! Reading it is a bit like listening in on the musings of an eminent colleague, trying to follow their train of thought, catching bits of their reasoning and ideas, and being impressed by their knowledge and insights. Tracing the development of Wallace’s thinking on biogeography and evolution as shown through this notebook is both a challenge and a pleasure. Watching him tussle with concepts, such as the definition of a species or the distinction between variety and species, is fascinating. These are concepts that biologists and palaeontologists still struggle with and discuss. Reading about his energetic collecting activities is also absorbing, even though his accounts of orangutan hunts are harrowing…In presenting the Species Notebook to us, Costa has produced a work of admirable scholarship. This book will certainly help to elevate Wallace to his rightful place in the pantheon of 19th century natural scientists and garner him additional respect as an original and perceptive thinker.
The Species Notebook constitutes a major document in the development of nineteenth-century evolutionary thought, and Costa’s beautifully produced and deftly annotated facsimile edition now makes this previously unpublished record of Wallace’s observations and thinking from the crucial pre–Origin of Species period widely available to scholars and the general public…Costa and Harvard University Press are to be congratulated for this handsome addition to Wallace studies.
- 592 pages
- 8-1/2 x 8-1/2 inches
- Harvard University Press
- Introduction and notes by James T. Costa
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