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.
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.
[Costa] convincingly navigates potentially treacherous terrain, setting the record straight on Wallace’s great achievement, which independently foreshadowed Darwin’s On the Origin of Species without in any way diminishing Darwin’s ‘insights and accomplishments.’ …An illuminating, nuanced account of the parallel discovery of a theory still deemed controversial by some.
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.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace independently discovered natural selection, a mechanism explaining the diversity of life on Earth, and Costa, professor of biology at Western Carolina University, explores how such a momentous discovery could have arisen from two people at roughly the same time as well as what we can learn from those similarities… He lays to rest the conspiracy theories promoting the belief that Darwin stole Wallace’s idea and took it as his own. Costa also counters those who have claimed that Wallace was a scientific lightweight who stumbled onto one important concept. Indeed, he details the evolutionary thinking and writing of both Wallace and Darwin during the critical period leading up to the joint publication of their theory of natural selection by the Linnean Society of London in 1858… Costa impressively demonstrates the inductive process both scientists utilized and how each made major and lasting contributions to modern science.
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.
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.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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