Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago

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9780199684007: Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago

This volume brings together the letters of the great Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) during his famous travels of 1854-62 in the Malay Archipelago (now Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia). it was these travels which led him to come independently to the same conclusion as Charles Darwin: that evolution occurs through natural selection. Beautifully written, the letters are filled with lavish descriptions of the remote regions he explored, the peoples, and fascinating details of the many new species of mammals, birds, and insects he discovered during his time there.

John van Wyhe and Kees Rookmaaker present new transcriptions of each of the letters, including recently discovered letters that shed light on the voyage and on questions such as Wallace's reluctance to publish on evolution, and why he famously chose to write to Darwin rather than to send his work to a journal directly. A revised account of Wallace's itinerary based on new research by the editors forms part of an introduction that sets the context of the voyage, and the volume includes full notes to all letters.

Together the letters form a remarkable and vivid document of one of the most important journeys of the 19th century by a great Victorian naturalist.

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From the Inside Flap:

'these letters contain at one and the same time, the raw material, not only of the most influential of biological theories, but of a thrilling story of exploration and take the reader into the mind of one of the most adventurous, observant, and honourable scientists of his time.'
David Attenborough, in his Introduction
'The book is a valuable addition to the literature on Wallace. The editing is scrupulous and detailed but not intrusive. The texts have been retranscribed and corrected. The illustrations are attractive and judiciously chosen. This is an excellent introduction to the formative years.'
Peter Raby, Literary Review
Between 1854 and 1862 the great Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace travelled in the Malay Archipelago, observing and collecting the wildlife. It was on this famous journey that Wallace independently came up with the concept of natural selection and wrote the fateful letter to Darwin which was to precipitate the publication of The Origin of Species. The letter to Darwin is lost, but collected here in a new transcription are the surviving letters from that journey, both written to and by this quintessential Victorian naturalist and traveller.
Through the letters, we glimpse the excitement and frustrations of Wallace's journey; his enthusiasm and dedication; and the exhilarating discussion of new ideas. More widely, we experience a Victorian world at the inception of a revolution in biology.

About the Author:

John van Wyhe is a historian of science, Senior Lecturer in the Departments of Biological Sciences & History, and a Fellow of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore. He is the founder and Director of Darwin Online and Wallace Online, Professorial Fellow of Charles Darwin University, Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and a Scientific Associate of the Natural History Museum (London). He lectures and broadcasts on Darwin, Wallace, and the history of science around the world.

Kees Rookmaaker is a biologist specialising in the history of zoology. He has worked for the past eight years on Darwin and Wallace, including work on transcriptions of notebooks and letters. He has also edited detailed surveys of all letters received by the Museum of Zoology, University in Cambridge during the 19th century. He is the author of over 200 papers and several books. He received the Founder's Medal of the Society for the History of Natural History.

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