In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History

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9780199856534: In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History

Virtually unknown today, Alfred Russel Wallace was the co-discoverer of natural selection with Charles Darwin and an eminent scientist who stood out among his Victorian peers as a man of formidable mind and equally outsized personality. Now Michael Shermer rescues Wallace from the shadow of Darwin in this landmark biography.

Here we see Wallace as perhaps the greatest naturalist of his age--spending years in remote jungles, collecting astounding quantities of specimens, writing thoughtfully and with bemused detachment at his reception in places where no white man had ever gone. Here, too, is his supple and forceful intelligence at work, grappling with such arcane problems as the bright coloration of caterpillars, or shaping his 1858 paper on natural selection that prompted Darwin to publish (with Wallace) the first paper outlining the theory of evolution. Shermer also shows that Wallace's self-trained intellect, while powerful, also embraced surprisingly naive ideas, such as his deep interest in the study of spiritual manifestations and seances. Shermer shows that the same iconoclastic outlook that led him to overturn scientific orthodoxy as he worked in relative isolation also led him to embrace irrational beliefs, and thus tarnish his reputation.

As author of Why People Believe Weird Things and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, Shermer is an authority on why people embrace the irrational. Now he turns his keen judgment and incisive analysis to Wallace's life and his contradictory beliefs, restoring a leading figure in the rise of modern science to his rightful place.

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About the Author:

Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, executive director of the Skeptics Society, and a monthly columnist for Scientific American. An adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University, he is also the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at CalTech. He lives in Southern California.


"A triply fascinating book that contains original research and interpretations full of insight."--New Scientist

"Shermer brings Wallace into the light."--Psychology Today

"An ambitious enterprise that will interest, excite, and maybe even infuriate a wide variety of readers."--Thomas Soderqvist, Science

"In this dazzling new biography, Alfred Russell Wallace at last comes out from behind Darwin's shadow and is given his due. As a leading figure in evolutionary theory, an astute social philosopher, committed political activist, hopeless dreamer, geographical explorer. much loved friend, anthropologist and spiritualist, he certainly deserves a fresh and full biographical study that does justice to his fascinating personality. Michael Shermer has written a wonderful account of Wallace's life and the varied times through which he lived. This is also biography with a purpose. Shermer asks how some thinkers can break out of the conventional mold while others do not. The answers lie in a provocative combination of history, biography, psychology and sociology...that is sure to generate much comment."--Janet Browne, Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, author of Darwin: Voyaging

"The author and the subject of this wonderful book have much in common. Both refuse to swim with the tide, both insist on judging the facts for themselves, neither is moved one tit or jottle by the opinion of the general public, both have an innocence and joy of life that protects them from the hurts of others. There is a moral purity combined with a fierce intelligence that characterizes both Alfred Russel Wallace and Michael Shermer, and it took the one to understand and write about the other. I recommend this book very highly indeed. It is a joy and privilege to spend time with two such men."--Michael Ruse, author of Can a Darwinian be a Christian?: The Relationship between Science and Religion

"Shermer does an outstanding job, painting a psychologically sensitive portrait of the heretic personality that made Wallace prone to investigate unusual claims, and to commit to and stand by them in the absence of substantial evidence in their favor."--Oren Solomon Harman, American Scientist

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