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Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species

Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species

James T. Costa

ISBN 9780674729698

Publication date: 06/16/2014

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Charles Darwin is often credited with discovering evolution through natural selection, but the idea was not his alone. The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, working independently, saw the same process at work in the natural world and elaborated much the same theory. Their important scientific contributions made both men famous in their lifetimes, but Wallace slipped into obscurity after his death, while Darwin’s renown grew. Dispelling the misperceptions that continue to paint Wallace as a secondary figure, James Costa reveals the two naturalists as true equals in advancing one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time.

Analyzing Wallace’s “Species Notebook,” Costa shows how Wallace’s methods and thought processes paralleled Darwin’s, yet inspired insights uniquely his own. Kept during his Southeast Asian expeditions of the 1850s, the notebook is a window into Wallace’s early evolutionary ideas. It records his evidence-gathering, critiques of anti-evolutionary arguments, and plans for a book on “transmutation.” Most important, it demonstrates conclusively that natural selection was not some idea Wallace stumbled upon, as is sometimes assumed, but was the culmination of a decade-long quest to solve the mystery of the origin of species.

Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species also reexamines the pivotal episode in 1858 when Wallace sent Darwin a manuscript announcing his discovery of natural selection, prompting a joint public reading of the two men’s papers on the subject. Costa’s analysis of the “Species Notebook” shines a new light on these readings, further illuminating the independent nature of Wallace’s discoveries.


  • [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


  • James T. Costa is Executive Director of Highlands Biological Station and Professor of Biology at Western Carolina University.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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