UPDATED: A new(ish) book on Wallace in French: "Alfred Russel Wallace, plus darwiniste que Darwin mais politiquement moins correct" by Jacques Reisse

UPDATED: I received the book this morning (1 July) and have updated the post below adding the table of contents as promised.

Mooching around the library catalogue of the National Library of Armenia (as you do…) I came across a new book (published in 2013) in French on Alfred Russel Wallace I must have missed.

It is by Jacques Reisse* and titled Wallace: Alfred Russel Wallace, plus darwiniste que Darwin mais politiquement moins correct (available both as an eBook and a hard copy) and was published by the Academie Royale de Belgique.

I am quite excited about this. The interest in Wallace in Francophone countries continues to grow. Only recently a French translation of Peter Raby’s excellent Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life  was published as Alfred R. Wallace, l’explorateur de l’évolution (2013) with a welcome and interesting introduction by the philosopher and historian of science, Jean Gayon.

This growing Francophone interest is important because they clearly have a different perspective on Wallace, Darwin and the history of evolution and science more generally. These fresh perspectives are to be very warmly welcomed especially when considering the more heterodox thinking of Wallace.

The title of Reisse’s book is thus of great interest; as is what he has to say in his abstract:

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) est l’un des plus grands naturalistes du 19e siècle. Autodidacte génial, co-inventeur de la théorie de l’évolution, explorateur de régions inconnues d’Amazonie et de l’archipel malais, père de la biogéographie, écologiste avant l’heure mais aussi socialiste, anticapitaliste, antimilitariste, féministe et donc « politiquement incorrect » dans l’Angleterre victorienne.

Wallace est déiste et spiritualiste : il croit a l’existence d’un monde des esprits, à l’existence d’un pouvoir organisateur surnaturel, aux fantômes et en cela, aussi, il est « politiquement incorrect » pour ses collègues et amis comme Huxley, Hooker, Darwin qui cherchent à dégager la science de toute contrainte philosophique ou religieuse et à la fonder sur des bases rationnelles.

Wallace est un personnage fascinant sur le plan scientifique et personnel. Sa vie est un vrai roman !

And in English:

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) is one of the greatest naturalists of the nineteenth century. Self-taught genius, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution, explorer of the unexplored Amazon and Malay Archipelago, father of biogeography, early ecologist but also socialist, anti-capitalist anti-militarist, feminist and therefore “politically incorrect” in Victorian England.

Wallace was a deist and spiritualist: believing in the existence of a spirit world, the existence of a supernatural directive power, ghosts and this, too, is “politically incorrect” to friends and colleagues such as Huxley, Hooker, Darwin seeking to detach science from any philosophical or religious constraint and found it on rational bases.

Wallace is a fascinating character scientifically and personally. His life is a real-life novel!

I certainly won’t be the one to disagree that Wallace’s life is more readable and appealing than many novels and I can’t wait to see how Reisse comes to deal with Wallace’s “politically incorrect’ views. It should be interesting.

I have ordered my copy. Sadly, I fear it will have to sit on my shelf unread for some time before I can get the time. If anyone does read it, please do tell me what you think of it.

Table of Contents

As promised, here is the table of contents. After seeing this I am even more excited about finally getting the time to read it:
  1. Biographie d’Alfred Russel Wallace
  2. Wallace et Darwin: des décennies de relations suivies
  3. L’evolution de l’homme selon Wallace
  4. Wallace, Lyell, Spencer et Huxley
  5. Wallace et le monde des esprits
  6. Wallace, père de la biogéographie
  7. Wallace, témoin privilégié de son temps
  8. Wallace, un sociologue politiquement engagé
And again in English:
  1. Biography of Alfred Russel Wallace
  2. Wallace and Darwin: Decades of Close Relations
  3. The evolution of man according to Wallace
  4. Wallace, Lyell, Spencer and Huxley
  5. Wallace and the Spirit World
  6. Wallace, father of biogeography
  7. Wallace, privileged witness of his time
  8. Wallace, a politically engaged sociologist


* Previously Reisse–who is a member of the Academie Royale de Belgique–also published Charles Darwin et Georges Lemaitre: une improbable mais passionnante rencontre (2008) with Dominique Lambert.

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