The Book That Changed America

The Book That Changed America

How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited A Nation

Book - 2017
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"In 1860, Charles Darwin's just-published On the Origin of Species was eagerly read and discussed by five extraordinary American intellectuals. The book first came into the hands of Harvard botanist Asa Gray, who soon led the fight for the theory in America. Gray passed his copy to the child welfare reformer Charles Loring Brace, who then introduced the book at a dinner party in Concord, Massachusetts, to three other friends: the abolitionist Franklin Sanborn, the philosopher Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau. In telling their story, Randall Fuller provides a compelling biography of perhaps the single most important idea of the nineteenth century, revealing a unique moment when Darwin's book reshaped American notions about nature, religion, science, and race. The Book that Changed America brings to life these five thinkers, as well as notable writers such as Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Frederick Douglass, as they intersected to grapple with evolutionary theory. For some, Origin's insistence that all creatures, including humans, were related helped provide scientific credibility to the cause of abolition. For others, Darwin's depiction of constant struggle and endless competition described America on the brink of civil war. Gray and Alcott both had tremendous difficulty aligning the new theory with their religious convictions and their faith in a higher power, while Thoreau, the most profoundly affected of all, absorbed Darwin's views into his mysterious final work on species migration and the interconnectedness of all living things. Creating a rich tableau of nineteenth-century American intellectual culture, The Book that Changed America is also an account of issues and concerns that are still very much with us today, including racism and the enduring conflict between science and religion."--Jacket.
Traces the impact of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" on a diverse group of writers, abolitionists, and social reformers, including Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, against a backdrop of growing tensions and transcendental idealism in 1860 America.
Publisher: New York, New York : Viking, [2017]
ISBN: 9780525428336
Characteristics: x, 294 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Jul 16, 2017

review by David Chivers, April 18, 2017, from the Humanist
“The Book That Changed America by Randall Fuller gives a well-researched and well-written account on the effect Charles Darwin’s views had on the course of American philosophy. What it doesn’t do nearly as well, despite its title, is explore the effect On the Origin of Species had on the country’s mass culture and the general public’s reaction to it.
When it was published and sent to America in late 1859, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was dropped into a nation already boiling with pro- and anti-slavery rhetoric. John Brown had just been tried and hung, and he was a hero to Northern abolitionists. So it’s not surprising that Darwin’s theory was viewed through the prism of the slavery debate.
Fuller’s book primarily deals with the American intellectual elite living in Concord, Massachusetts, and closely associated with the scientific class at nearby Harvard University. This includes the pantheon of American philosophical, literary, and scientific thinkers, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May, and Harvard botanist Asa Gray, who became the book’s most notable American champion. Also included is Harvard’s Louis Agassiz, perhaps America’s foremost scientist at the time, and the one voice who did not accept Darwin’s theories. ...”


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