Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago by John van Wyhe & Kees Rookmaaker (edd) - review by Peter Raby

Peter Raby

Tiger Beetles on Ternate

Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago


Oxford University Press 319pp £16.99

The centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s death is an appropriate year in which to publish this edition of his correspondence from the Malay Archipelago. Wallace described his eight-year journey, or sequence of journeys, undertaken between 1854 and 1862 as the ‘central and controlling incident’ of his life. Over its course, he made heroically extensive collections containing many ‘new’ species; he conceived the dividing line between the Asian and Australasian biological regions now known as the Wallace Line; and he wrote a number of hugely influential scientific papers, including the formulation of his theory of natural selection, which astonished Darwin and led swiftly to the joint announcement of the theory at the Linnean Society in 1858 and, as a direct consequence, the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species the following year.

Wallace, of course, wrote his own account of his archipelago travels, a wonderful book dedicated to Darwin that has never been out of print since it was published in 1869. But the structure Wallace adopted is largely geographical and thematic, which makes it difficult at times to follow the pattern

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