14 Feb 2016: An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

beetles-1Sochaczewski, an explorer of ideas, offers informed, sometimes edgy, always accessible illustrations of issues Wallace cared ahout 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

Despite what the cover says, this tome isn’t a naturalist’s field guide to beetles. The title comes from an answer which British biochemist J. B. S. Haldane gave to a distinguished theologian when asked what inferences one could draw, about the nature of the creator, from the study of his creations. Haldane replied:God has an inordinate fondness for beetles. One could, on the other hand, conjecture that a less nebulous explanation for the title can be found in a letter which the book’s protagonist Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to beetle collector Frederick Bates, about tiger beetles from different islands which matched the colour of the terrain where they were found. Such facts as these puzzled me for a long time, Wallace said, but I have lately worked out a theory which accounts for them naturally.

wallaceWho was Wallace? In the mid-19th century, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, independent of one another, founded the beginnings of (what was then) a radical study of evolutionary science. Today, both men are universally recognised as co-discoverers of the theory known as natural selection. Despite the relative anonymity, Wallace was lauded during his lifetime: Darwin-Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals of the Linnean Society of London; the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals of the Royal Society (Britain’s premier scientific body); the Order of Merit; and honorary doctorates from the universities of Dublin and Oxford.

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles follows the Victorian-era explorations of the self-taught naturalist Wallace, who arrived in Singapore, nearly broke, and beginning an eight-year exploration of Southeast Asia. He travelled some 22,400 kilometres and collected 125,660 specimens of insects, birds and animals, including hundreds of new species. During Wallace’s Asian sojourn, he also elaborated on theories of biogeography (the study of the distribution of living things in space and time) and island biology. He articulated 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.

Written by Paul Spencer Sochaczewski, who 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 humour, history, social commentary, and sometimes outrageous personal tales.

Limited copies of An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles are available now at Areca Books. Grab one before they are sold out!

About the author
Fresh out of university and motivated by Kennedy-inspired ideals and a reluctance to fight in Vietnam, Paul Spencer Sochaczewski joined the U.S. Peace Corps in 1969, following graduation from George Washington University with a degree in psychology. He served as an education advisor in Sarawak and then worked as creative director of an 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. Today, he writes, and advises international NGOs on fundraising and communications. He speaks Bahasa Indonesia and French and currently resident in Geneva, Switzerland.