Cover image for The book that changed America : how Darwin's theory of evolution ignited a nation / Randall Fuller.
The book that changed America : how Darwin's theory of evolution ignited a nation / Randall Fuller.
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, [2017]
Physical Description:
x, 294 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Part I: Origins -- The Book from Across the Atlantic -- Gray's Botany -- Beetles, Birds, Theories -- Word of Mouth -- Making a Stir -- A Night at the Lyceum -- The Nick of Time -- Part II: Struggles -- Bones of Contention -- Agassiz -- The What-Is-It? -- A Spirited Conflict -- Into the Vortex -- Tree of Life -- A Jolt of Recognition -- Wildfires -- Part III: Adaptations -- Discord in Concord -- Moods -- Meditations in a Garden -- The Succession of Forest Trees -- Races of the Old World -- A Cold Shudder -- Part IV: Transformations -- At Down House -- The Ghost of John Brown -- In the Transcendental Graveyard.
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.


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1 Bob Harkins Branch 576.82 FUL Book Adult General Collection

On Order



A compelling portrait of a unique moment in American history when the ideas of Charles Darwin reshaped American notions about nature, religion, science and race

"A lively and informative history." - The New York Times Book Review

Throughout its history America has been torn in two by debates over ideals and beliefs. Randall Fuller takes us back to one of those turning points, in 1860, with the story of the influence of Charles Darwin's just-published On the Origin of Species on five American intellectuals, including Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, the child welfare reformer Charles Loring Brace, and the abolitionist Franklin Sanborn.

Each of these figures seized on the book's assertion of a common ancestry for all creatures as a powerful argument against slavery, one that helped provide scientific credibility to the cause of abolition. Darwin's depiction of constant struggle and endless competition described America on the brink of civil war. But some had difficulty aligning the new theory to their religious convictions and their faith in a higher power. Thoreau, perhaps the most profoundly affected 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, as well as providing a fascinating biography of perhaps the single most important idea of that time, The Book That Changed America is also an account of issues and concerns still with us today, including racism and the enduring conflict between science and religion.

Author Notes

Randall Fuller is the author of From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature , which won the Phi Beta Kappa's Christian Gauss Award for best literary criticism, and Emerson's Ghosts: Literature, Politics, and the Making of Americanists . He has written for The New York Times , The Wall Street Journal , and other publications, and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the Chapman Professor of English at the University of Tulsa.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this inventive work, which weaves two powerful events into a vibrant tapestry of antebellum intellectual life, Fuller (From Battlefields Rising), professor of English at the University of Tulsa, beautifully describes how the engagement by a group of Transcendentalists with Darwin's newly published On the Origin of Species deepened their commitment to the antislavery movement. Still reeling from abolitionist John Brown's 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, Transcendentalists (and Brown supporters) Franklin Sanborn, Charles Loring Brace, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau quickly devoured Darwin's book and recommended it to others. All people were biologically related, Darwin's work hinted, which Transcendentalists interpreted as a repudiation of the belief that "African-American slaves were a separate, inferior species." Fuller shares the Transcendentalists' knack for clearly presenting complex ideas. He nimbly traverses the details of the scientific debate between Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz and Asa Gray over the theories of polygenism and evolution. There's a glimpse of Louisa May Alcott, inspired by Darwin's book to write a daring story of interracial love. Elegant writing and an unusual approach to interpreting the time period make this a must-read for everyone interested in Civil War-era history. Illus. Agent: Marianne Merola, Brandt & Hochman Literary. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Published during an extraordinarily turbulent time in the history of the United States-just prior to the Civil War and just after John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry-Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) would prove to have a significant impact on the country. Fuller (English, Univ. of Tulsa; From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature) introduces the subject, focusing on a dinner party consisting of four of the most important America intellectuals and abolitionists of the time: Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, Charles Loring Brace, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau. During the gathering, Brace presented a copy of Darwin's seminal work. The title would profoundly affect them all, especially because it seemed to support abolitionism and unsettle their personal beliefs. By positing a common ancestor for all living creatures and intimating that all human beings were biologically related, Darwin demonstrated to proponents of slavery that they could no longer justify the institution with the assertion that blacks belonged to a different species than whites. Fuller is a skilled author who expertly describes the setting and the tension of the era. His -informative volume reads like a novel. VERDICT This fascinating account is recommended for those interested in literature, science, or 18th-century American history. [See -Prepub Alert, 7/25/16.]-Dave Pugl, Ela Area P.L., Lake Zurich, IL © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Part I Origins
1 The Book from Across the Atlanticp. 3
2 Gray's Botanyp. 13
3 Beetles, Birds, Theoriesp. 18
4 Word of Mouthp. 29
5 Making a Stirp. 43
6 A Night at the Lyceump. 51
7 The Nick of Timep. 63
Part II Struggles
8 Bones of Contentionp. 79
9 Agassizp. 84
10 The What-Is-It?p. 96
11 A Spirited Conflictp. 107
12 Into the Vortexp. 116
13 Tree of Lifep. 128
14 A Jolt of Recognitionp. 136
15 Wildfiresp. 147
Part III Adaptations
16 Discord in Concordp. 161
17 Moodsp. 172
18 Meditations in a Gardenp. 181
19 The Succession of Forest Treesp. 190
20 Races of the Old Worldp. 196
21 A Cold Shudderp. 204
Part IV Transformations
22 At Down Housep. 219
23 The Ghost of John Brownp. 231
4 In the Transcendental Graveyardp. 242
Acknowledgmentsp. 257
Notesp. 258
Selected Bibliographyp. 277
Indexp. 285

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