Footsteps in the Forest

Alfred Russel Wallace in the Amazon

Sandra Knapp

The British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace set out for the Amazon in 1848 to collect natural history specimens. During his time there, he spent almost two years travelling up the Rio Negro, a region few Europeans had explored.

978 0 565 09143 9
October 1999
225 x 180 mm
96 pp
Colour throughout
Natural History Museum


A fire on the return journey to England destroyed all of his collections but among the possessions rescued was a collection of sketches of fish, later presented to the Natural History Museum.

This book is a fascinating account of Wallace's expedition describing the naturalist in the making, the tragic loss of his collections and how this affected his future. Throughout the book the role of chance in the making of naturalists and the course of science in general is explored. The work is richly illustrated with the fish sketches, palm drawings and scenes of life in the Amazon.

Key features

  • Fascinating story of natural history exploration
  • Illustrated with 40 sketches
  • Enjoyable, lively text

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Sandra Knapp is an internationally respected botanist and an expert in the taxonomy and phylogeny of the nightshade family. 

She took up her current post at the Natural History Museum in London as one of the editors of Flora Mesoamericana, an international collaborative project to provide an integrated identification guide to the plants of southern Mexico and Central America. 

She is the author of several books on botany and its history, including the award-winning Potted Histories, and is actively involved in improving the public understanding of science.


Find out what others think of this book.

"Sandy Knapp has told the story in a little book that deserves a big audience. The world needs books like these, books about men too easily forgotten: they fill in history's gaps, and provide another insight into the sublime messiness from which great things emerge."

The Guardian

"Alfred Russel Wallace, who reached the same conclusion about natural selection as Darwin did and collaborated with him, spent four years in the Amazon making drawings of the flora and fauna there. Disaster hit on his way home in 1852. His ship caught fire, leaving him time only to snatch one box of sketches while escaping. Footsteps in the Forest by Sandra Knapp tells the story of Wallace's adventures, illustrated by the exquisite, painstaking drawings saved from the flames."

New Scientist

"... an elegant volume on Wallace's early career by Sandy Knapp, a Natural History Museum expert on South American botany...Knapp imbues her narrative with authority and tells her tale with admirable brevity, crisscrossing her account with abundant quotes from Wallace's letters and drawings from his two surviving the historian Jane Camerini puts it: 'Wallace deserves to be known, not just as a disembodied thinker, but as a man worth knowing for his Victorian goodnes'. "

The Observer

"This fascinating story of Wallace's induction into the world of tropical biology, with its joys and hardships, is well told by Sandra Knapp and is to be wholeheartedly recommended as a valuable adjunct to the great literature of the intrepid nineteenth century tropical biologists. Modestly priced, it forms a valuable background to his later and much better known Malaysian era."

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