Wild Reads

 

The best nature and wildlife inspired books, reviewed every month

THEY SAY:

 

Alfred Russel Wallace 

Introduced by George Beccaloni
Preface by Steve Jones

A milestone in the theory of evolution and one of the greatest books of 19th-century historic travel, this lavish two-volume edition brings together a wealth of illustrative material.

Alfred Russel Wallace was, with Charles Darwin, the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution through natural selection, and The Malay Archipelago is celebrated for the impulse it gave to the formulation and first publication of the theory in 1858. Wallace spent eight years in South East Asia, travelling from Singapore to the western edges of New Guinea, collecting beetles, birds and butterflies. The undertaking was phenomenal (14,000 miles of travel, 110,000 insects, 8,000 birds, 500 mammals and reptiles, 5,000 species new to science and the first living birds of paradise), and as Wallace battled through jungles, rivers and mountains, sickness, near-starvation and encounters with headhunters, he made discoveries about the workings of biology that have shaped our view of the world ever since. This edition brings together all the illustrative materials connected with Wallace and his Malay trip, including Wallace’s own watercolours and many rarely seen pieces only previously published in 19th-century zoological journals.

The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise

I SAY:

Oh my. This edition of Alfred Russel Wallace's travels is simply glorious – a true visual feast. It’s a book you won’t be able to resist simply picking up and flicking through every now and again, poring over the dazzling plates of illustrations and maps.

But let's start with the outside first.

 

The wonderful, rich cobalt blue and striking green box draws the eyes from across a room. I'm pleased to report it is not a flimsy affair, all show and no substance. It is sturdy enough to easily protect the twin books which nestle, gem-like, inside. Remove them, and savour the embossed covers, with individual artwork to set them apart. Volume one has a striking silhouette of a butterfly on, while volume two boasts a beetle. But it is the attention to detail that truly sets them apart, with their delicate drawings in sumptuous green. I'm sure it is no coincidence that such regal shades have been chosen, as these books really are fit for a king or queen.

 

It is easy to talk only about the obvious visual appeal of it, but let us not forget the true treasure lies in the work of Alfred Russel Wallace himself.

If this is your first time attempting to read Wallace’s world-famous writings, don’t be intimidated by the thought of a stuffy Victorian scientist using stiff prose. Wallace actually has a wonderfully easy style for the time, and is entertaining as well as informative. Alarming, vivid, gripping, and groundbreaking, this book has it all - and with the addition of truly magnificent illustrations, this edition is a fitting tribute to an incredible man.Whether your passion is zoology, science, history, geography, travel-writing – or you just like beautiful books – this edition of The Malay Archipelago is a must. 

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