Unlike Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace had to work for a living.
sketches his background and a little of the context within
which Victorian naturalists and collectors worked, but its primary focus
is on Wallace's travels, on his trip to the Amazon basin and above all
the twelve years he spent travelling around the Indonesian archipelago.
During that time Wallace struggled with illness and other dangers, but
collected an immense number of animals and plants, exotic (orangutans
and birds of paradise) and mundane. And his observations of diversity
and geographical led him to innovative ideas about evolution and the
origins of species, ideas which make him one of the founders of modern
biogeography. Wallace's subsequent life is skimmed over quickly, then a
final chapter looks at how things have changed since his time, at what it
is like to work as a naturalist or anthropologist in modern Indonesia and
at some of the conservation and environmental issues the country faces.
Most of Archipelago is taken up by colour photographs, mostly of flora
and fauna and landscapes that Wallace might have seen, but also of the
differing aspects of modern Indonesia. Though it includes mini-essays
on topics such as the Wallace Line, marine biodiversity, and the modern
debate over Darwin and Wallace's precedence with the theory of natural
selection, it offers little concrete science. If it is shallow in itself,
however, Archipelago makes an excellent accompaniment to a book like
Quammen's Song of the Dodo — or, I imagine, to Wallace's The Malay
Archipelago, which I am now inspired to read.
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- Related reviews:
- books about Indonesia + Indonesian history
- more biography
- more history of science
- books published by University of California Press