Cover image for 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
Shermer, Michael.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xx, 422 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


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Home Location
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QH31.W2 S44 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In Darwin's Shadow is the gripping story of the heretical British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace who co-discovered natural selection independently of his more well-known contemporary Charles Darwin. Utilizing a number of never-before-used archival sources that bring to bear newinterpretations of this most fascinating scientists, best-selling author Michael Shermer applies his training in both the history of science and psychology to reveal the life, science, and personality of Wallace to unravel the mystery of his scientific, quasi-scientific, and non-scientific ideas.Shermer's unique approach goes beyond narrative story-telling to analyse the science, culture, and ideas that lie beneath the life story, in a path-breaking approach to biography. Shermer presents the two major points of intersection and conflict between Wallace and Darwin, one so radical thatDarwin accused his younger colleague of intellectual murder!Wallace has always appealed to lovers of travel and adventure stories, because that is the life he led: In Darwin's Shadow will also appeal to historians of science, readers of popular science, and fans of Shermer's previous books.

Author Notes

Michael Shermer is the director of the Skeptics Society and the host of the Skeptics Lecture Series at the California Institute of Technology. He teaches science, technology, and evolutionary thought in the Cultural Studies Program at Occidental College.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Last year, Peter Raby's Alfred Russell Wallace [BKL Ag 01] offered a deeply sympathetic portrait of the controversial co-discoverer of natural selection, largely accepting him on his own eccentric terms. Now, in this complementary study, the editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine applies the tools of objective science to probe the enigmatic psychology of this pioneering thinker, who embarrassed many of his professional colleagues by entangling himself in both radical politics and bizarre spiritualism. Sociological theories of birth order, social class, and parental separation hint at why Wallace developed a heretic personality, attracted to subversive science (evolution), to outrereligion (spiritualism), and radical politics (gender and racial egalitarianism). Though this theoretical framework does clarify and unify the disparate elements of Wallace's life, the scientist's admirers may protest that it reduces Wallace to merely another case study in irrationalism. But other readers will applaud Shermer for the toughmindedness necessary to sever Wallace's laudable openmindedness in doing biology or advancing political causes from his dubious naivetein frequenting the seance. Bryce Christensen

Library Journal Review

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, sances, 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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Shermer's carefully researched biography of Wallace was inspired by Frank Sulloway's application of "scientific methods to the study of history." Shermer (founding publisher and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine) summarizes Wallace's life and work while skillfully debunking the work of those who insist that Charles Darwin took many of his ideas from Wallace without sufficient attribution and then cleverly covered his tracks. The author's "scientific analysis" of Wallace's life includes his contributions in natural history, his sometimes-heretical ideas, and his relationship with Darwin. He utilizes material made available by Wallace's heirs such as seldom-published photographs of Wallace, but relies too heavily on a Wallace interview published in the last year of his life (1913), in which Wallace recalled that his interest in spiritualism began before 1865, the date most historians believe Wallace became a firm believer in spiritualism. He suggests that this supports the notion that Wallace's break with Darwin over human evolution (in 1864) was driven solely by his commitment to spiritualism, not by such influences as utopian socialism and phrenology, adding that Wallace's spiritualism was scientific, not religious. Despite this, the book should be a useful resource for scholars in the history of ideas. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. J. S. Schwartz CUNY College of Staten Island