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

Michael Shermer
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 15 2002
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 new interpretations 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 Wallaceto 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 that Darwin 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.

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From 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. Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City, MO
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

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 outre religion (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 naivete in frequenting the seance. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cursing the darkness April 27 2003
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Restoring Albert Russell Wallace's reputation is an occasional occupation with historians. Some wish to elevate him over Darwin, usually on the question of "priority" - who first thought up evolution by natural selection? Others portray him as the victim of Britain's class structure - doomed to obscurity because of his humble background. Shermer, although the title implies otherwise, makes an attempt to reconcile Darwin and Wallace, at least over natural selection. From that point, Shermer follows Wallace through a complex life. This readable, if somewhat shallow, biography does Wallace justice, but at the cost of shedding the broader context. In support of his programme, he relies heavily on Frank Sulloway's research on "birth-order" and creativity. This innovative study has had a rocky career, but Shermer finds it useful. For him, the findings have meaning, but their validity remains unclear. Especially when comparing but two subjects.
Wallace was a complicated personality, perhaps even more so than Darwin himself. In order to build a coherent image of his subject, Shermer creates a "historical matrix model". This is a three-dimensional visual aid of the elements he's utilising in erecting Wallace's biography. Mixing time, Wallace's various excursions and interests, Shermer ties the whole structure to his subject's views on evolution of humanity and the mind. Whether this method works may depend on your attitude about applying mathematical structures to a man's life. Fortunately for readability, Shermer keeps the application of this device at a low key, saving his analytical summation to the end of the book - where it falls flat.
Shermer traces the voyages Wallace was virtually forced to undertake.
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4.0 out of 5 stars In the shadow no longer Nov. 16 2003
Format:Hardcover
Alfred Russel Wallace seems to rate hardly more than a footnote in the history of the theory of evolution. Like most who have studied this subject, I knew of Wallace's mutual discovery of the theory and evidence in support of it. I knew too of Darwin's generous introduction of the man as a co-discoverer, and even of the theory that that introduction might have been more premeditated and less generous that it appears. In some of my reading I had even learned of Wallace's "defection" to spiritualism. However, where Darwin's life is everywhere paraphrased and his thoughts on the subject of evolution almost subject to canonization, Wallace's life and thoughts seemed just to have "fallen out" of the picture. Michael Shermer's book, In Darwin's Shadow, The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace, provides a more detailed look at Wallace the man and scientist. It also looks at the subject of how history and biography reflects the psychology of their time-in some ways, he does so unintentionally.
In many ways A. R. Wallace, though not a formally educated man, was more of a research scientist than Darwin. He apparently plunged into the pursuit of regional studies with a vengeance for most of his youth, some twelve years abroad, studying natural subjects in their native habitat. Whether it was beetles in the tropics, indigenous people in their native and in their European dominated settings, the communities of animals characteristic of different regions in Southeast Asia, or the geology of various regions, etc, his studies were extensive and detailed. According to Shermer, he logged in over 20,000 miles on various collecting trips, and just on his Malay trip collected almost 125,000 specimens, over a thousand of which were new species (p. 14).
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2.0 out of 5 stars The new phrenologists? May 24 2003
Format:Hardcover
I bought this book rather in spite of than because of the other Amazon reviews, and lugged it with me on a flight out to the West Coast. The book lasted from Boston to Atlanta, and when it was over I closed it with a sigh of relief. While Shermer is certainly at times an engaging writer here he indulges in a rather peculiar form of quantitative psycho-history mixed in with the equally peculiar allocation of behavioural traits to birth order. There MAY be something in this somewhere, but at the same time it smacks of the 19th century Victorian fetish about cranial measurments that Shermer's evident hero-mentor Stephen Gould took to task in THE MISMEASURE OF MAN. That Shermer is so obsessed with his methodologies (he devotes a substantial portion of the book to 'how he did it") is a shame because it lessens and weakens his focus on his putative topic, the fascinating Alfred Wallace. Instead of really delving intoWallace's background and early experiences we get a few pages of quick gloss intertwined with what frankly struck me as mumbo-jumbo about what it means to be a Younger Child. This may be all very new Age & Hip right now, but I strongly doubt it will prove to have much in the way of scholarly legs. Then there is the tedious re-hashing of Gould's speculations which other reviewers have already re-hashed. Yup, they are old, they are trite, and can we please now move on? Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the discussion of Wallace's involvement with various "Spiritualist" frauds during the second half of his career. Here the writing really picks up & one has the sense that "aha, now we are going to get somewhere". Alas, the excitement soon fades & the book itself fades out to a gentle glow at the end. i really don't know how to categorize this text. Read more ›
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