NEW BOOK: "On the Organic Law of Change" by James T. Costa

This morning I received a new book ready for review: On the Organic Law of Change: A Facsimile Edition and Annotated Transcription of Alfred Russel Wallace’s Species Notebook of 1855-1859 by Jim Costa.

I have been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy for review. Wallace’s species notebooks were the field notebooks which Wallace wrote during his time in the Malay Archipelago (1854-1862). Of course, this period of his life is now immortalised due to it being the period in which he independently co-discovered the theory of natural selection with Darwin in 1858.

Costa has already published the excellent Annotated Origin of Species which I cannot recommend enough to people. With this work the left-hand of the page included a scan of the first edition of the Origin of Species and the right-hand had Costa’s annotations.


For those new to the history of evolution Costa’s annotations are a hugely useful guide through this seminal work. What is more, even for those familiar with the Origin of Species his annotations are extremely useful and insightful and his position at the forefront of contemporary debates means that he often brings the reader up to speed with current thinking.

As a result, it is going to be extremely exciting to explore these notebooks with Costa’s editorial guidance. What is clear from the outset is the sheer amount of work that has gone into it. The layout is broadly the same as his annotated Origin with necessary adjustments due to the different nature of the primary material.

The reader is thus presented with a double-page spread for each page of the notebook. The left-hand page includes both the scan of Wallace’s handwritten notes and the transcription of these notes. On the right hand pages are Costa’s annotations: sometimes extensive, sometimes minimal.

My quick perusal of this so far offers a very good impression. The transcriptions I have read are highly accurate and largely complete. The annotations strike the balance of detailed where appropriate, cogent where possible and clear throughout. Hopefully once I have had the time to dive fully into the book rather than just dipping my toes into it I will come out with the same conclusion.

NB: The full review of this book will probably be a while away as it is currently intended that this will be reviewed alongside Costa’s other recent work on Wallace, Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species.

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