Dear Sir: Sixty-Nine Years of Alfred Russel Wallace Letters to the Editor
by Charles H. Smith and Kelsey Patterson (editors); Preface by Peter Raby
Siri Scientific Press (2014) 978-0-9574530-7-4 RRP £36.00
416 pages 240 x 170 mm
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Entomologist's Monthly Magazine (2016, summary). "This edited collection must be one of the best ways into the phenomenon that was Wallace, and is a ‘must-read’ for anyone with an interest in the ferment of ideas to which he made such an immense contribution."
Entomologist’s Gazette (2015, snippets). "This fascinating book throws up many interesting, quirky, occasionally funny, insights into the life of a man who was the ‘Sir David Attenborough’ of his day."
"This book, edited by Smith & Patterson, adds to the sum of knowledge and understanding of Wallace in a unique way … it is almost a Nineteenth/early Twentieth Century ‘Twitter feed’ or ‘Facebook history’ of the varied interests of a most eclectic man. It is almost as if the editors have ‘hacked’ Wallace’s social media accounts and collected his thoughts and feelings on a variety of #hashtagged issues."
"For a largely self-taught man, the breadth of knowledge and understanding he showed across so many disciplines was an impressive achievement. No aspect of science, mathematics, society or politics is seemingly left without comment. Some of the issues are as pertinent today as they were 110 years ago."
"Rather than organising the letters into a strict chronology, something that is quite usual in such collections, the editors have split the book into thematic sections. There are helpful introductions to the sections that set the scene and inform the reader. For those who need a quick refresher on Wallace’s life, there is a succinct overview in the book’s introduction. The editors also have an aim for this book, which I think they have fulfilled. They wanted to give ‘a deeper sense of the man’. If you want to know what Wallace really thought about Land Nationalisation, Spiritualism, Women’s suffrage (he was a supporter), or just about anything else, somewhere there is a letter that will reveal Wallace the man, the humanitarian, the staunch socialist, the ‘working class’ hero."
"I wonder what Wallace would have made of the avenues of communication that we have today. If he were alive, I would like to think he would relish the opportunities that the Internet provides. I could see him as an active user of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, as well as being a blogger, still inveterate letter writer and celebrity naturalist. I, for one, would certainly click ‘follow’ for him on Twitter and invite him to be a friend on Facebook. While we cannot access his views and thoughts through live social media, this collection of letters to the editors more than fills the void. I heartily recommend it as a window into the ‘other’ life of an early XX Century celebrity naturalist."
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), colleague of Charles Darwin, co-discoverer of the principle of natural selection, “father” of the field of evolutionary biogeography, vocal socialist and spiritualist, land reform theorist, intense social critic, etc., etc., was one of the most captivating figures of his time. Wallace began his professional career through two great natural history collecting expeditions, one to the Amazon and the other to the Australasian Archipelago; so successful were these that many observers would place him as the front-ranking field naturalist of all time. After he returned to England in 1862, however, his professional emphasis shifted toward writing. His published works included more than twenty books and close to a thousand other items: technical scientific papers, essays, commentaries, book reviews, and, not least, some three hundred letters to the Editor. It is in the last that his temperament comes out most strongly, and it is our privilege in the present work to reproduce more than two hundred of these, extending to all of his many intellectual passions. The philosopher Charles Peirce once wrote of Wallace that he “never wrote a dull line in his life, and couldn’t if he tried”, and the reader here can expect to be entertained accordingly.
Charles H. Smith, Ph.D., FLS, has been studying Wallace’s work for more than thirty years and has several other books on him to his credit; he also maintains the ever-expanding research website The Alfred Russel Wallace Page at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, where he is Science Librarian and Professor of Library Public Services. Kelsey Patterson is a recent graduate of the Honors Program at the same institution, where she double-majored in Financial Planning and Business Informatics. She is currently employed by Unified Trust Company, N.A., of Lexington, Kentucky.
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