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

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

by Michael Shermer

View All Available Formats & Editions

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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
Why, then, are science and religion at loggerheads? The answer can be found in an excellent new book on the man who also discovered natural selection (and who pushed Darwin into publication). In Darwin's Shadow, a biography of Alfred Russel Wallace by Michael Shermer, the founder and editor of Skeptic magazine, tells us about someone who was both a great scientist and also much given to religious speculation and commitment. After making his great discovery, Wallace became enthused with spiritualism, believing that everything -- including the course of evolution up to humans -- is guided by unseen forces, and that a full account of life and its purposes must make reference to the unknown and unfathomable. Horrified, the regular scientists around Darwin pushed Wallace out of the scientific community. They were happy to get him a state pension, but they were damned if they were going to let him belong to the club. He was refused job after job, and had to make his living marking exam papers and writing popular books.
Library Journal
Wallace is nearly unknown today, but he was revered as one of the preeminent naturalists of the Victorian age. Accorded the rank of "codiscoverer" of the theory of natural selection (ranking second only to Charles Darwin), Wallace spent twice as much time as Darwin collecting specimens during ocean voyages and in remote jungles. What he didn't do was devote years formulating his observations into evolutionary theory; instead, he started with the theory of natural selection and then set about finding the data to prove it. It was his initial draft that spurred Darwin to publish, without further delay, his first paper outlining the theory of evolution. This new biography details the distinct differences in their viewpoints of natural selection. Despite Wallace's tremendous intellect and contributions to science, his foray into and support of spiritualism, s ances, and phrenology tarnished his credibility and standing. Shermer is founding publisher and editor in chief of Skeptic magazine, the author of several popular science books, and considered an authority on the heretical personality. His expertise in analyzing the life and paradoxical beliefs of this complex man elevate "the last great Victorian" to a position of prominence as one of the significant leaders in modern science. Highly recommended for all academic and larger public library science collections. [See also Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology, reviewed in LJ 8/02. Ed.]Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A scholarly appraisal of the curious life and work of the naturalist who, some insist, was the true father of the theory of evolution. Against them, Shermer, the founder and editor of Skeptic magazine, observes that nature does not proceed by leaps and bounds, and neither does science: "On close examination, most great scientific revolutions are more like gradual evolutions." Thus Wallace (1823–1913), a careful reader of the literature of his day, followed Charles Darwin on a parallel course toward the conclusion that species and environments changed in time and that some force of nature somehow steered that change. Though it shocked Darwin to realize that he’d been beaten to a scientific scoop, he recognized Wallace’s great contributions to evolutionary theory, and, as did Wallace, "recognized the gain to be had through cooperative interaction." History, of course, remembers it as Darwin’s theory, which was just fine by the self-effacing Wallace and his descendants; in this regard, Shermer quotes one of his subject’s grandsons, who wrote, "none of us desire to call it ‘Wallace’s theory of natural selection,’ but many of the Darwin people seem defensive about it." The author enumerates some of the reasons that Wallace did not attain the same fame as Darwin, one of them being Wallace’s later devotion to a kind of spiritualism that attributed the movement of natural selection to an "Overruling Intelligence," a quasi-scientific appeal to the divine that dismayed Darwin and his materialist-minded followers. Along with the basic facts of Wallace’s life and thought, Shermer explores the process of creative thought, the politics of science, and the sociology of scholarly communication, all ofwhich should be of much interest to students of science, regardless of how they view Wallace’s work. A useful companion to Wallace’s—and Darwin’s—own writings, and a fine contribution to the history of science.
From the Publisher
"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

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Michael Shermer is founding publisher and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine, and is director of the Skeptics Society. He has authored several popular books on science, including Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do they Say It? and Borderlands of Science (OUP). He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >