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On the Organic Law of Change A Facsimile Edition and Annotated Transcription of Alfred Russel Wallace's Species Notebook of 1855-1859

By: Alfred Russel Wallace(Author), James T Costa(Author)
573 pages, 307 b/w photos, 1 b/w illustration, 1 map, 29 tables
On the Organic Law of Change
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  • On the Organic Law of Change ISBN: 9780674724884 Hardback Nov 2013 Out of stock: Usually dispatched within 5 days
Price: £53.95
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About this book

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.

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Note on the Text

Species Notebook (Recto)
Species Notebook (Verso)

Appendix 1. Species Notebook Entries Bearing on Transmutation and Related Topics
Appendix 2. On Wallace’s Critique of Charles Lyell and Principles of Geology

Note on A. R. Wallace Literary Works

Customer Reviews


James T. Costa is Executive Director of Highlands Biological Station and Professor of Biology at Western Carolina University.

By: Alfred Russel Wallace(Author), James T Costa(Author)
573 pages, 307 b/w photos, 1 b/w illustration, 1 map, 29 tables
Media reviews

"An important new book [...] The notebook itself is part diary, part field notes and part log of each day's collecting. Its pages are filled with observations, beautiful drawings and daily tallies of specimens. But this is also where Wallace wrote his thoughts, analyzed papers and developed his evolutionary ideas."
– Stephanie Pain, New Scientist

"On the Organic Law of Change offers the first detailed analysis of Wallace's Species Notebook by an evolutionary biologist and is the most important study of the development of Wallace's evolutionary ideas attempted by anyone so far. Costa is uniquely placed to have done this work; not only does he have an excellent grasp of evolutionary theory, but he also has a detailed understanding of the early history of the subject including the development of Darwin's ideas about evolution."
– George Beccaloni, Curator of Orthopteroid Insects and Director of the A.R. Wallace Correspondence Project, Natural History Museum, London

"A triumph of careful research. The annotations are illuminating in all regards."
– Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science and Chair of the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University

"Alfred Russel Wallace's Species Notebook is surely one of the most important documents in the history of science. Jim Costa's deft annotations do more than just explain, synthesize, and contextualize this day-to-day account of Wallace at work: they bring his interests and ideas – and Wallace himself – to life. It is truly an unusual privilege to have such a direct view into the workings of an extraordinary mind in the act of formulating some of the most powerful and effective ideas in all of science."
– Andrew Berry, Lecturer on Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

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