Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) was perhaps the most famed naturalist of the Victorian age. His expeditions to remote Amazonia and Southeast Asia were the stuff of legend. A collector of thousands of species new to science, he shared in the discovery of natural selection and founded the discipline of evolutionary biogeography.
Radical by Nature tells the story of Wallace's epic life and achievements, from his stellar rise from humble origins to his complicated friendship with Charles Darwin and other leading scientific lights of Britain to his devotion to social causes and movements that threatened to alienate him from scientific society.
James Costa draws on letters, notebooks, and journals to provide a multifaceted account of a revolutionary life in science as well as Wallace's family life. He shows how the self-taught Wallace doggedly pursued bold, even radical ideas that caused a seismic shift in the natural sciences, and how he also courted controversy with nonscientific pursuits such as spiritualism and socialism. Costa describes Wallace's courageous social advocacy of women's rights, labour reform, and other important issues. He also sheds light on Wallace's complex relationship with Darwin, describing how Wallace graciously applauded his friend and rival, becoming one of his most ardent defenders.
Weaving a revelatory narrative with the latest scholarship, Radical by Nature paints a mesmerizing portrait of a multifaceted thinker driven by a singular passion for science, a commitment to social justice, and a lifelong sense of wonder.
James T. Costa is a professor of biology and executive director of the Highlands Biological Station at Western Carolina University. His books include Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory; Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species; and The Annotated Origin. He is a recipient of the Alfred Russel Wallace Medal and other honours.
"Outstanding [...] A superb biographical rehabilitation of an indispensable natural scientist."
– Kirkus Review, starred review
"[Costa] gives naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace the biography he deserves in this definitive account [...] Comprehensive and revelatory, this is a first-rate take on an overlooked figure in scientific history."
– Publishers Weekly
"Radical by Nature uncovers fresh details about a remarkable, idiosyncratic scientist and social activist, showing how humans' understanding of the world was fundamentally altered by his ideas."
– Foreword Reviews, starred review
"Few Victorians were as adventurous as Alfred Russel Wallace, who plunged into the tropics to collect thousands of uniquely fascinating natural history specimens and simultaneously pioneered the theory of evolution by natural selection. Yet Wallace's story is frequently overshadowed by that of his more famous contemporary Charles Darwin. Here, in glorious detail, James Costa – a noted biologist-historian – captures Wallace's life in all its brilliance, originality, and complexity, and shows how this unassuming naturalist with the daring mind changed the history of biology forever."
– Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: A Biography
"Alfred Russel Wallace is too often relegated to a footnote in the Charles Darwin story. James Costa's masterful new biography puts Wallace back where he belongs, in the main text, bringing him triumphantly and precisely into focus as Darwin's equal."
– Andrew Berry, editor of Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology
"James Costa's life of Alfred Russel Wallace is comprehensive and detailed, scholarly and lively. Readers familiar with the author's masterly historical and biological work over recent decades will have high expectations of this volume and they will not be disappointed. There is no better book on this remarkable man."
– M.J.S. Hodge, University of Leeds