The Spice Islands Voyage: The Quest for the Man Who Shared Darwin's Discovery of Evolution

Tim Severin, Author, Timothy Severin, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0518-4
Written in the vein of Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki, this engaging book takes a fascinating armchair voyage through the Indonesian Archipelago journeys of Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). Author and world-class explorer Severin (The China Voyage) builds a close approximation of the boat Wallace used and then relies on Wallace's immensely well-received book, The Malay Archipelago, to plot his modern route. The point is twofold: to compare the teeming tropical environment Wallace so carefully combed and beautifully described to today's, and to remind 20th-century readers that Darwin's theory of natural selection was not his alone. Severin does a credible job of showing Wallace's likely--albeit unknowing--role in helping Darwin pull together his momentous concept after 20 years of research. According to Severin, Wallace put the basic concept down on paper in between bouts of delirium occasioned by jungle fever. He then sent his ideas to Darwin and others in the English scientific community for feedback. Darwin published his tome Origin of Species not long after. Although the theory of evolution by natural selection was initially called the Darwin-Wallace Theory, Wallace's name was soon dropped in most circles. Overall, Severin's environmental message is more upbeat than his historical reporting. Many of the areas Wallace once traipsed remain relatively sound ecologically. The key to their good health, Severin believes, lies in how the natives co-exist with the land, trying not to destroy more wildlife than is necessary. It's a moral that readers of Severin's splendid book will embrace, and one with which Wallace could easily have agreed. Illustrated with numerous line drawings and 12 pages of full-color photos. BOMC featured selection. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/04/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 418 pages - 978-0-7089-9011-7
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-7867-0721-8
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