Suggested Reading on Alfred Russel Wallace

Three good places to start exploring the life and ideas of Alfred Russel Wallace are Michael Flannery’s Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (DI Press, 2011), Nature’s Prophet: Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution from Natural Selection to Natural Theology (University of Alabama Press, 2018), and Intelligent Evolution: How Alfred Russel Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press, 2020). The first book is a short biography of Wallace; the second is an acclaimed academic study of his views; and the third book is an abridgement of Wallace’s seminal work on intelligent evolution, The World of Life, along with a detailed historical introduction. Two peer-reviewed journal articles by Flannery are also worth exploring: “Alfred Russel Wallace’s Intelligent Evolution and Natural Theology” and “Strong and Weak Teleology in the Life Sciences Post-Darwin.” The latter article describes other scientists who continued to find teleology in nature post Darwin and Wallace.  

The most detailed general overview of Wallace’s life is Ross A. Slotten’s Heretic in Darwin’s Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace (Columbia University Press, 2004). The first contemporary historian to analyze Wallace from a theistic perspective is An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace  (Chicago University Press, 2004) by York University’s humanities professor Martin Fichman.

Archival Resources on Alfred Russel Wallace

Besides the extensive secondary literature on Alfred Russel Wallace, there is a sizeable body of archival material related to Wallace. Two major sources include the British Library that holds some three thousand folio letters, and the University of Edinburgh where Wallace’s personal library resides. Because Wallace’s materials have been merged with the larger collection, the Edinburgh University Library database lists the Alfred Russel Wallace collection at the shelfmarks SD 8270-SD 8742 and may be searched accordingly.

Other holdings include Wallace letters at Cambridge University; London’s Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine; the Linnean Society; the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew; the Royal Geographical Society of London; the Herbert Spencer Collection at the University of London; and the Society for Psychical Research, London.

There are, by one estimate, over 5,600 extent letters to and from Wallace.  There is an ambitious ongoing effort to identify, compile, catalog, and make all of Wallace’s correspondence available at the Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project. As of this writing it is still a work-in-progress.