Two recent books about Alfred Russel Wallace from James T. Costa

Biologist James T. Costa has recently published two books about Alfred Russel Wallace (he previously edited The Annotated Origin: A Facsimile of the First Edition of On the Origin of Species in 2011).

James T. Costa, editor, On the Organic Law of Change: A Facsimile Edition and Annotated Transcription of Alfred Russel Wallace’s Species Notebook of 1855-1859 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 592 pp.

A giant of the discipline of biogeography and co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace was the most famous naturalist in the world when he died in 1913. To mark the centennial of Wallace’s death, James Costa offers an elegant edition of the “Species Notebook” of 1855-1859, which Wallace kept during his legendary expedition in peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia, and western New Guinea. Presented in facsimile with text transcription and annotations, this never-before-published document provides a new window into the travels, personal trials, and scientific genius of the co-discoverer of natural selection.

In one section, headed “Note for Organic Law of Change”–an extended critique of geologist Charles Lyell’s anti-evolutionary arguments–Wallace sketches a book he would never write, owing to the unexpected events of 1858. In that year he sent to Charles Darwin an essay announcing his discovery of the mechanism for species change: natural selection. Darwin’s friends Lyell and the botanist Joseph Hooker proposed a “delicate arrangement”: a joint reading at the Linnean Society of his essay with Darwin’s earlier private writings on the subject. Darwin would publish On the Origin of Species in 1859, to much acclaim; pre-empted, Wallace’s first book on evolution waited two decades, but by then he had abandoned his original concept.

On the Organic Law of Change realizes in spirit the project Wallace left unfinished, and asserts his stature as not only a founder of biogeography and the preeminent tropical biologist of his day but as Darwin’s equal among the pioneers of evolution.

James T. Costa, Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 352 pp.

Charles Darwin is often credited with discovering evolution through natural selection, but the idea was not his alone. The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, working independently, saw the same process at work in the natural world and elaborated much the same theory. Their important scientific contributions made both men famous in their lifetimes, but Wallace slipped into obscurity after his death, while Darwin’s renown grew. Dispelling the misperceptions that continue to paint Wallace as a secondary figure, James Costa reveals the two naturalists as true equals in advancing one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time.

Analyzing Wallace’s “Species Notebook,” Costa shows how Wallace’s methods and thought processes paralleled Darwin’s, yet inspired insights uniquely his own. Kept during his Southeast Asian expeditions of the 1850s, the notebook is a window into Wallace’s early evolutionary ideas. It records his evidence-gathering, critiques of anti-evolutionary arguments, and plans for a book on “transmutation.” Most important, it demonstrates conclusively that natural selection was not some idea Wallace stumbled upon, as is sometimes assumed, but was the culmination of a decade-long quest to solve the mystery of the origin of species.

Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species also reexamines the pivotal episode in 1858 when Wallace sent Darwin a manuscript announcing his discovery of natural selection, prompting a joint public reading of the two men’s papers on the subject. Costa’s analysis of the “Species Notebook” shines a new light on these readings, further illuminating the independent nature of Wallace’s discoveries.

BOOK: Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution

I read several articles from David Livingstone on the topic of this new book while in graduate school. Nice to see he’s put out a book collecting all this historical research into one place:

David N. Livingstone, Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 280 pp.

Using place, politics, and rhetoric as analytical tools, historical geographer David N. Livingstone investigates how religious communities sharing a Scots Presbyterian heritage engaged with Darwin and Darwinism at the turn of the twentieth century. His findings, presented as the prestigious Gifford Lectures, transform our understandings of the relationship between science and religion. The particulars of place—whether in Edinburgh, Belfast, Toronto, Princeton, or Columbia, South Carolina—shaped the response to Darwin’s theories. Were they tolerated, repudiated, or welcomed? Livingstone shows how Darwin was read in different ways, with meaning distilled from Darwin’s texts depending on readers’ own histories—their literary genealogies and cultural preoccupations. That the theory of evolution fared differently in different places, Livingstone writes, is “exactly what Darwin might have predicted. As the theory diffused, it diverged.” Dealing with Darwin shows the profound extent to which theological debates about evolution were rooted in such matters as anxieties over control of education, the politics of race relations, the nature of local scientific traditions, and challenges to traditional cultural identity. In some settings, conciliation with the new theory, even endorsement, was possible—demonstrating that attending to the specific nature of individual communities subverts an inclination to assume a single relationship between science and religion in general, evolution and Christianity in particular. Livingstone concludes with contemporary examples to remind us that what scientists can say and what others can hear in different venues differ today just as much as they did in the past.

BOOK: From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America

This new title from historian Kimberly A. Hamlin looks to be an important contribution to Darwin studies:

Kimberly A. Hamlin, From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 256 pp.

From Eve to Evolution provides the first full-length study of American women’s responses to evolutionary theory and illuminates the role science played in the nineteenth-century women’s rights movement. Kimberly A. Hamlin reveals how a number of nineteenth-century women, raised on the idea that Eve’s sin forever fixed women’s subordinate status, embraced Darwinian evolution—especially sexual selection theory as explained in The Descent of Man—as an alternative to the creation story in Genesis. Hamlin chronicles the lives and writings of the women who combined their enthusiasm for evolutionary science with their commitment to women’s rights, including Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Eliza Burt Gamble, Helen Hamilton Gardener, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These Darwinian feminists believed evolutionary science proved that women were not inferior to men, that it was natural for mothers to work outside the home, and that women should control reproduction. The practical applications of this evolutionary feminism came to fruition, Hamlin shows, in the early thinking and writing of the American birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Much scholarship has been dedicated to analyzing what Darwin and other male evolutionists had to say about women, but very little has been written regarding what women themselves had to say about evolution. From Eve to Evolution adds much-needed female voices to the vast literature on Darwin in America.

BOOK: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York : Henry Holt and Co, 2014), 336 pp.

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Kolbert has done any radio interviews and podcasts about her new book, including for NPR, Slate, New Books in Environmental Studies, and the American Museum of Natural History.

On a similar note – a new documentary, 6 the Movie:

Darwin Sign Project

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Today I learned about a fun project at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos:

Those who have visited Galapagos will know that the sign outside the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) is a popular spot to have your photograph taken. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the research station, the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Friends of Galapagos Organisations are asking you to send in your photos beside the sign to contribute to a giant montage that will go on display at the new visitor centre. It is a great opportunity for you to become a part of Galapagos history!

Submissions will be accepted until 20 January 2015 (when the CDRS turns 51 years old) and all eligible participants will be notified via email to view the final photo collection online.

A voluntary donation with each photo submission will be put towards building repairs and maintenance of the research station, helping to keep CDF at the forefront of Galapagos conservation science for years to come.

If you’ve got such a photo, head here to submit it! Wish I had such a photo…

Watch “Your Inner Fish” from PBS online!

PBS just finished airing a three-part documentary based on paleontologist Neil Shubin’s book Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, which he hosted. For anyone interested in evolution and how humans are related to the rest of the animal world, this is a must-see. It’s very well done, visually and with content. You can watch each of the episodes through the PBS website, Shubin tells me, for up to two weeks following the air date for each episode (thus, 4/24 for episode 1, May 1 for episode 2, and May 8 for episode 3. It’s April 25th today, and as of early this morning PST, episode 1 was still viewable. Just click on any of the three images below to view an episode!

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