I’m very proud to be reviewing something a little different today. Anyone who knows anything about me knows how much I move nature and natural history. So reviewing the Folio Society’s edition of Alfred Russel Wallace’s groundbreaking book, The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise, is a massive honour.
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.
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… TO READ MORE, HEAD TO GO BE WILD