Book Reviews

The Evolutionist: The Strange Tale of Alfred Russel Wallace By Avi Sirlin

Although Alfred Russel Wallace was trained as a surveyor, he was considered an amateur in the world of science due to his lack of tertiary education, which was a pre-requisite in Victorian England if one wished to be taken seriously.

Wallace made his living collecting exotic flora and fauna which he either mounted or transported live to Victorian England where interest in such things was insatiable. His first animal collecting expedition was to South America, in the steps of Darwin. He observed and recorded meticulously his findings and published many papers, books and presentations, including the fore-runner of the theory of evolution. It was not given due recognition.

Wallace decided to try his luck in the Malay Archipelago. His discovery of a complete difference in flora and fauna on Lombok and Bali although only twenty miles apart convinced him that his proposition of evolution was correct and he concluded that survival of the fittest was its mechanism. The Wallace Line is his legacy.

Wallace did not enjoy the financial rewards he hoped for. His curiosity led him to examine spiritualism which confirmed (from his peers’ viewpoint) his “amateurism” and he lost what credibility he had earned.

What is most notable in this book is an intrepid explorer who endured unimaginable hardships, doomed from the outset, by Victorian social mores. This book is a step on the road to his rehabilitation.

Can we hope for a Wallace’s Theory of Evolution tome?

The Evolutionist: The Strange Tale of Alfred Russel Wallace by Avi Sirlin


Win Ramdas
SMSA Director

The Evolutionist: The Strange Tale of Alfred Russel Wallace By Avi Sirlin

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