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Posted December 28, 2003
Until recently Alfred Russel Wallace was looked upon in little more than 'other man' terms: yes, he had co-invented the theory of natural selection, but with Darwin around, who needed to be concerned about another Victorian evolutionist? Things are changing, however, and this book is completely successful in showing just how different Wallace was from Darwin, and why greater interest needs to be taken in his work. It has been known for a long time that Wallace was a spiritualist, but it had always been assumed, even by professional historians and scientists, that this side of his personality was just a quirk--a quirk to be taken neither seriously, nor constructively. Similarly, his adventures in the world of land nationalization, socialism, and other forms of social criticism were thought to be the actions of a crank, and to detract from the 'serious' science that he did do. Fichman's contextualist study of Wallace goes a long way toward debunking these myths. While neither a full biography nor a full-ranging analysis of Wallace's many contributions, it does do a better job than any previous effort in fully revealing Wallace's intellectual essence, and how this gave rise to his varied interests. In particular, it dwells on his spiritualism and socialism, and how these represented integral parts of his world view. Previous workers, evading the larger picture, have fostered the misappreciation that his adoption of spiritualism caused him to change his mind regarding certain aspects of the validity of natural selection; here, we see how for him both subjects fit equally into a larger scale appreciation of nature--one that also recognized a place for both moral and social concerns. In short, this work is a big step forward in coming to grips with the thought of one of the Victorian age's greatest minds. Wallace may be an 'elusive' Victorian, but he is not an inscrutable one, and the lessons to be learned from this penetrating analysis are many.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.