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Naturalists in Paradise

Wallace, Bates and Spruce in the Amazon

Mr John Hemming


A brilliantly told account of the travels and travails of three of the 19th century’s outstanding scientists

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Also available as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon


Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Walter Bates and Richard Spruce were English naturalists who went to Amazonia 150 years ago. Each of the three explored an unknown river and had many thrilling adventures: they faced fearful rapids and threats of murder; they encountered remote indigenous peoples; and they also experienced shipwrecks, hunger, violent attacks of malaria and many other hardships.

Despite all, they were wonderfully happy during their years in this 'paradise' of forests and rivers. Their prodigious collecting included thousands of insects and plants new to science, and in addition to their huge contribution to knowledge of the Amazonian environment each is particularly famous for one discovery.

Wallace is acknowledged as a co-discoverer, along with Charles Darwin, of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Bates discovered protective mimicry among insects, a phenomenon named after him. Spruce transported the quinine-bearing Cinchona tree, the greatest medicinal plant of the nineteenth century, to India, where it saved countless lives from malaria.

Few people in the world know or have written as much about the Amazon region as John Hemming, drawing on direct experience going back fifty years. Naturalists in Paradise is a masterwork of loving and informed storytelling, the first to combine all three young men's experience of the Amazon.

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'Clear and compelling … Hemming tells a hardly believable story with great clarity and sympathy'
Financial Times

'A splendid, indeed brilliant book … the first comprehensive account of those three historic figures'
Wade Davis, winner of the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize

'Hemming’s fascination [with the Amazon] shines out of every page … a compelling story … Hemming tells the story of this extraordinary trio without hype, wisely content to let the facts and their own reflections speak largely for themselves'
Daily Mail

'This beautifully crafted book is not only a pleasure to handle but also a valuable reference work as it is complemented by a substantial bibliography and detailed cross-references'
Archives of Natural History

'Hemming turns the technical nightmare of combined biographies into a seamless daydream … his book is itself a little piece of intellectual paradise'
The Oldie

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.5 x 17.2 cm

Extent: 368 pp

Illustrations: 76

Publication date: 23 March 2015

ISBN: 9780500252109

Contents List

1: A naturalist’s paradise • 2: Antecedents • 3: Enterprising young men • 4: The mouth of the Amazon • 5: Into Amazonia • 6: Manaus • 7: Wallace on the Rio Negro • 8: Into the unknown • 9: Calamities • 10: Bates on the Amazon • 11: Spruce climbs to the Andes • 12: Later lives: the Amazonian legacy

About the Author

John Hemming was Director of the Royal Geographical Society for over twenty years. He has travelled extensively in the Amazon region, where he experienced many of the same thrills and hardships as the naturalists featured in this book. He was awarded Peru’s highest civil decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit.