British biochemist J. B. S. Haldane, an ardent Marxist who quit England for India, was once approached by a distinguished theologian to ask what inferences one could draw about the nature of the creator from the study of his creations, Haldane replied, with his usual terseness, that “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”
In the mid 19th century, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, independent of one another, founded the beginnings of evolutionary science, a process that came to be known as natural selection. An inordinate Fondness for Beetles follows the Victorian-era explorations of Wallace through Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. While Wallace is recognized as co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection (and based on unfounded rumours, was said to have been sidelined by Darwin), was also an edgy social commentator and a voracious collector of “natural productions” — he caught, skinned, and pickled 125,660 specimens, including 212 new species of birds and 900 new species of beetles.
Written by Paul Spencer Sochaczewski, author of The Sultan and the Mermaid Queen and co-author of Soul of the Tiger, has created an innovative form of storytelling — combining incisive biography and personal travelogue. He examines themes about which Wallace cared deeply — women’s power, why boys leave home, the need to collect, our relationship with other species, humanity’s need to control nature and how this leads to nature destruction, arrogance, the role of ego and greed, white-brown and brown-brown colonialism, serendipity, passion, mysticism — and interprets them through his own ﬁlter with layers of humor, history, social commentary, and sometimes outrageous personal tales.
Who was Alfred Russel Wallace?
ln 1854, after an uneventful sea passage from England, Alfred Russel Wallace, a nearly broke, self-taught British naturalist, arrived in Singapore and began an eight-year exploration of Southeast Asia. He traveled some 22,400 kilometers (14,000 miles) and collected 125,660 specimens of insects, birds and animals, including hundreds of new species. But ideas interested him more than taxonomic numbers, and during Wallace’s Asian sojourn he elaborated theories of biogeography (the study of the distribution of living things in space and time) and island biology. He opined on man’s social quirks and racial distinctions, and developed a theory of natural selection and the evolution of species that he mailed to Charles Darwin, who had been pondering the same questions for many years. Wallace’s letter to Darwin spurred the older scientist into publishing his famous The Origin of Species. Some conspiracy theorists float the (unlikely) conjecture that Darwin and his well-placed friends in the British scientiﬁc hierarchy deliberately sidelined Wallace, who was in Indonesia during the critical period when the theory of natural selection was presented in London. Darwin today is a household name; Wallace, unfortunately, isn’t.
About the author: Fresh out of university with a degree in psychology and motivated by Kennedy-inspired ideals and a reluctance to fight in Vietnam, Paul Spencer Sochaczewski joined the U.S. Peace Corps in 1969. He served as an education advisor in Sarawak and then worked as creative director of JWT advertising agency and as a freelance journalist in Singapore and Indonesia, living 13 years in Southeast Asia. He joined WWF International as head of creative services in 1981. He now writes, and advises international NGOs on fundraising and communications. He speaks Bahasa Indonesia and French and currently resident in Geneva, Switzerland.
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“Reminds me of Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines and Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo. I think he has created a new genre combining, biography, travel adventure, and commentary, entirely new and refreshing.” Jim Thorsell, Senior advisor on World Heritage to IUCN
”Sochaczewski, an explorer of ideas, offers informed, sometimes edgy, always accessible illustrations of issues Wallace cared about deeply. This book should make everyone want to explore and experience the rainforests of Asia before they are all gone.” Robin Hanbliry-Tenison, Explorer, author of Mulu: The Rainforest, The Oxford Book of Exploration, and The Great Explorers