On Alfred Russell Wallace

When he was twenty-four years old, Alfred Russel Wallace, the greatest field biologist of the nineteenth century, had his head examined by a phrenologist who determined that, while his “organ of wonder” was very big, his “organ of veneration,” representing respect for authority, was noticeably small. Wallace was so struck with the accuracy of this report that, sixty years later, he mentioned it in his autobiography. It was wonder that drew him to nature, and an instinctive disregard for authority that made it easy to challenge an entire civilization’s religious convictions, as he did when, in 1858, he dashed off a paper proposing a theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Unlike Charles Darwin, who spent twenty years keeping a similar conclusion to himself in private dread, Wallace didn’t give a damn what people thought. This utter independence from public opinion is one of several reasons that he has all but vanished from popular consciousness.

the new yorker weighs in on wallace. here. in other news, a previous boss of mine, niranjan rajadhyaksha, has just finished writing a book on the rise of india for john wiley. knowledge@wharton has just published an exceedingly interesting excerpt. for that, click here.

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