History of Science & Knowledge

Radical by Nature: The Revolutionary Life of Alfred Russel Wallace

A major new biography of the brilliant naturalist, traveler, humanitarian, and codiscoverer of natural selection


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Mar 21, 2023
6.13 x 9.25 in.
36 color + 62 b/w illus. 3 maps.
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Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) was perhaps the most famed naturalist of the Victorian age. His expeditions to remote Amazonia and southeast Asia were the stuff of legend. A collector of thousands of species new to science, he shared in the discovery of natural selection and founded the discipline of evolutionary biogeography.

Radical by Nature tells the story of Wallace’s epic life and achievements, from his stellar rise from humble origins to his complicated friendship with Charles Darwin and other leading scientific lights of Britain to his devotion to social causes and movements that threatened to alienate him from scientific society.

James Costa draws on letters, notebooks, and journals to provide a multifaceted account of a revolutionary life in science as well as Wallace’s family life. He shows how the self-taught Wallace doggedly pursued bold, even radical ideas that caused a seismic shift in the natural sciences, and how he also courted controversy with nonscientific pursuits such as spiritualism and socialism. Costa describes Wallace’s courageous social advocacy of women’s rights, labor reform, and other important issues. He also sheds light on Wallace’s complex relationship with Darwin, describing how Wallace graciously applauded his friend and rival, becoming one of his most ardent defenders.

Weaving a revelatory narrative with the latest scholarship, Radical by Nature paints a mesmerizing portrait of a multifaceted thinker driven by a singular passion for science, a commitment to social justice, and a lifelong sense of wonder.

Awards and Recognition

  • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year
  • Winner of the PROSE Award in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Association of American Publishers