Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Evolution's Other Father

Alfred Ressel Wallace- Wikipedia
The story of the theory of evolution begins and ends with Darwin in the popular literature, but frequently ignores or at least downplays the role of Alfred Russel Wallace.  While Darwin published first and continued to research natural science, Wallace in his own way was the more interesting character. 

A series of two one hour shows on BBC presents the story of Wallace in a somewhat breathless manner, beautifully photographed and spiced up by the narrator.  It is entertaining and factual although overly dramatic in suggesting that Wallace was the "real father" of evolution theory.

Perhaps the most interesting story is his discovery of what is now called the Wallace Line which dramatically separates the species of Australia and Asia across a narrow 17 mile strait between two islands.  

The filming takes the narrator and guide Bill Bailey into wild places at apparent risk of life and limb.  It ignores the fact that a camera crew, hauling hundreds of pounds of equipment across rivers and up into the trees to photograph wildlife, faced even greater hardships.  In spite of this quibble, it is an interesting two hour series, beautifully filmed history that is even more intellectually fulfilling than keeping up with the Kardashians.

If you enjoy the natural world, no matter what your views are on evolution, you will learn a lot by watching Alfred Russel Wallace Part 1 and Part 2.

Wallace wrote about his travels in The Malay Archipelago, a book that has never been out of print since.  It was praised by Darwin and other scientists, and was dedicated to Darwin.  It is available in PDF form or online reading for free at archive.org.

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