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The Book That Changed America

How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation

Associate Professor of English Randall Fuller

$45.95

Hardback

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01 February 2017
The compelling story of the effect of Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species on a diverse group of American writers, abolitionists, and social reformers, including Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, in 1860.

In early 1860, a single copy of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was read and discussed by five important American intellectuals who seized on the book's assertion of a common ancestry for all creatures as a powerful argument against slavery. The book first came into the hands of Harvard botanist Asa Gray, who would lead the fight for the theory in America. Gray passed his heavily annotated copy to the child welfare reformer Charles Loring Brace, who saw value in natural selection's premise that mankind was destined to progressive improvement. Brace then introduced the book to three other friends: Franklin Sanborn, a key supporter of the abolitionist John Brown, who grasped that Darwin's depiction of constant struggle and endless competition perfectly described America in 1860, especially the ongoing conflict between pro- and antislavery forces; the philosopher Bronson Alcott, who resisted Darwin's insights as a threat to transcendental idealism; and Henry David Thoreau, who used Darwin's theory to redirect the work he would pursue till the end of his life regarding species migration and the interconnectedness of nature.

The Book That Changed America offers a fascinating narrative account of these prominent figures as they grappled over the course of that year with Darwin's dangerous hypotheses. In doing so, it provides new perspectives on America prior to the Civil War, showing how Darwin's ideas become potent ammunition in the debate over slavery and helped advance the cause of abolition by giving it scientific credibility.
By:  
Dimensions:   Height: 231mm,  Width: 157mm,  Spine: 30mm
Weight:   499g
ISBN:   9780525428336
ISBN 10:   052542833X
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Reviews for The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation

Fuller is a lively, engaging writer, with an eye for fascinating details. . .[he] has mined this rich material with care and insight. . .[His] most surprising revelation is the profound impact Darwin's portrait of a 'teeming, pulsating natural world' exerted on Thoreau. - The New York Times Book Review A stimulating chronicle of a group of New England thinkers who responded to the Origin of Species in the years following the book's first appearance. . .Fuller can be commended for illuminating Darwin's early effect on America in ways that lead us to think about later repercussions, including today's debates over creationism and science-denial. --The Wall Street Journal An intellectual history that reads as a drama. . .Fuller's tale is of Darwin and abolition and moral battles that led to literal ones; it is also, more simply, the story of humans wrestling with insights that would change the world and their place in it. The story is evocatively told: Fuller is an excellent writer, with an eye for irony and a unique ability to inject suspense into a story. --The Atlantic A vivid snapshot of American intellectual life on the verge of the Civil War. . .Fuller draws lively character sketches. . .displaying a flair for evocative scene setting.. .the book's loveliest passages show Thoreau embracing Darwin's celebration of nature's abundance and turning it to his own purposes. --The Boston Globe Fuller's book offers us a vivid portrait of how On the Origin of Species debuted in America's intellectual culture during a watershed moment in the nation's history. . .Moving deftly amid a diversity of familiar American figures, including novelists, poets, philosophers, zoologists, and botanists, Fuller captures their excitement, as well as their debates over Darwin's ideas. --Science Fuller's book is a timely one. . .[he] has a compelling story to tell, and he tells it well. His narrative is lush with memorable detail, and. . .he is a master at making his characters come alive. - The American Scholar A vibrant history of the reception of Charles Darwin's ideas by American minds and spirits . . . Fuller creates a rich tapestry of personalities and roiling ideas. In radiant prose, and with a sure eye for the telling detail, [he] reveals the shattering impact of Darwin's book on religious thought, scientific inquiry, and especially on debates over slavery . . . A fresh, invigorating history of philosophical and political struggles. - Kirkus Reviews (starred) In this inventive work, which weaves two powerful events into a vibrant tapestry of antebellum intellectual life, Fuller 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. . .Elegant writing and an unusual approach to interpreting the time period make this a must-read for everyone interested in Civil War-era history. - Publishers Weekly (starred review) Charles Darwin's Origin of Species burst upon America at the same time that the nation was descending into disunion and civil war. Randall Fuller has ingeniously combined these stories in this fascinating study of Darwin's impact especially on the Transcendental intelligentsia of Concord: Thoreau, Emerson, Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May. These and other famous contemporaries emerge in a fresh perspective in this stimulating book. --James M. McPherson, author of The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters Randall Fuller's ingenious The Book That Changed America draws together seemingly disparate strains of American thought and activism by charting the progress of Darwin's masterwork as it was literally passed from hand to hand by eager readers during its first year of publication. There are dark stories here of the 'developmental' theory--evolution--inspiring notions of racial superiority; yet those who read Darwin with open minds were thrilled to find, as Thoreau wrote, evidence of 'a sort of new creation, ' or as Frederick Douglass foresaw, hope for 'the magnificent reunion of mankind in one brotherhood.' With its cast of vivid characters and the fate of the nation in the balance, Fuller's utterly convincing narrative gives science a starring role in the run up to the Civil War. --Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life Randall Fuller makes Concord glow with this beautifully-written account of what happened in 1860 when somebody brought a new book along to a dinner party. It was the very first copy of Darwin's Origin of the Species to reach these shores, and in tracing its influence on Thoreau among others Fuller shows both the web of friendship through which scientific knowledge spread, and its inseparability from the politics of its day. --Michael Gorra, author of Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of An American Masterpiece Fuller's eye-opening account of the arrival of Darwin to America holds many surprises, above all that Origin of Species was greeted joyfully by its first American readers not as evolutionary science but as a revolutionary expos' of the racist thinking behind Southern slavery. Even as the Civil War remade their world, these earliest readers wrestled with Darwin's ideas: some doubted, many accepted (more or less), and a few--like Thoreau--embraced the beauty of Darwin's view of life. Fuller shows how ideas come to life, shaped by chance meetings, life-changing enthusiasms, perverse misunderstandings, cataclysmic events, and sudden betrayals. If you ever doubted that ideas can change the world--or if you ever wondered how--read this book! --Laura Dassow Walls, author of the forthcoming Henry David Thoreau: A Life The Book That Changed America offers a lively, wide-ranging, informative account of the enthusiasm--and consternation--provoked by Darwin's masterpiece among his first influential American readers. --Lawrence Buell, Harvard University, Powell M Cabot Professor of American Literature Emeritus Randall Fuller has produced a vibrant and ingenious intellectual history of Civil War-era America by tracing the coterie circulation of a single copy of Charles Darwin's On the Origins of Species. Read and discussed by five of antebellum America's most conspicuous intellectuals, this copy of Darwin's 'dangerous' book transformed how Asa Gray, Charles Loring Brace, Franklin Sanborn, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau thought about a range of contemporary issues, especially race, slavery, and increasing sectional tension in the United States. Fuller's beautifully written book promises to reignite a number of debates about evolution, the history of science, and the role of books and reading in the nineteenth century. --Coleman Hutchison, author of Apples and Ashes: Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America This is one of the most original and important books on the Civil War era to appear in years. Brilliantly conceived and elegantly written, Randall Fuller shows how and why Darwin's Origin of Species emerged at the center of intellectual and cultural debates that transformed the nation. - John Stauffer, author of The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race Praise for The Book That Changed America Fuller is a lively, engaging writer, with an eye for fascinating details. . .[he] has mined this rich material with care and insight. . .[His] most surprising revelation is the profound impact Darwin s portrait of a teeming, pulsating natural world exerted on Thoreau. The New York Times Book Review Fuller s book is a timely one. . .[he] has a compelling story to tell, and he tells it well. His narrative is lush with memorable detail, and. . .he is a master at making his characters come alive. The American Scholar A vibrant history of the reception of Charles Darwin s ideas by American minds and spirits . . . Fuller creates a rich tapestry of personalities and roiling ideas. In radiant prose, and with a sure eye for the telling detail, [he] reveals the shattering impact of Darwin s book on religious thought, scientific inquiry, and especially on debates over slavery . . . A fresh, invigorating history of philosophical and political struggles. Kirkus Reviews (starred) In this inventive work, which weaves two powerful events into a vibrant tapestry of antebellum intellectual life, Fuller 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. . .Elegant writing and an unusual approach to interpreting the time period make this a must-read for everyone interested in Civil War-era history. Publishers Weekly (starred review) Charles Darwin's Origin of Species burst upon America at the same time that the nation was descending into disunion and civil war. Randall Fuller has ingeniously combined these stories in this fascinating study of Darwin's impact especially on the Transcendental intelligentsia of Concord: Thoreau, Emerson, Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May. These and other famous contemporaries emerge in a fresh perspective in this stimulating book. --James M. McPherson, author of The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters Randall Fuller s ingenious The Book That Changed America draws together seemingly disparate strains of American thought and activism by charting the progress of Darwin s masterwork as it was literally passed from hand to hand by eager readers during its first year of publication. There are dark stories here of the developmental theory evolution--inspiring notions of racial superiority; yet those who read Darwin with open minds were thrilled to find, as Thoreau wrote, evidence of a sort of new creation, or as Frederick Douglass foresaw, hope for the magnificent reunion of mankind in one brotherhood. With its cast of vivid characters and the fate of the nation in the balance, Fuller s utterly convincing narrative gives science a starring role in the run up to the Civil War. --Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life Randall Fuller makes Concord glow with this beautifully-written account of what happened in 1860 when somebody brought a new book along to a dinner party. It was the very first copy of Darwin s Origin of the Species to reach these shores, and in tracing its influence on Thoreau among others Fuller shows both the web of friendship through which scientific knowledge spread, and its inseparability from the politics of its day. --Michael Gorra, author of Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of An American Masterpiece Fuller s eye-opening account of the arrival of Darwin to America holds many surprises, above all that Origin of Species was greeted joyfully by its first American readers not as evolutionary science but as a revolutionary expose of the racist thinking behind Southern slavery. Even as the Civil War remade their world, these earliest readers wrestled with Darwin s ideas: some doubted, many accepted (more or less), and a few like Thoreau embraced the beauty of Darwin s view of life. Fuller shows how ideas come to life, shaped by chance meetings, life-changing enthusiasms, perverse misunderstandings, cataclysmic events, and sudden betrayals. If you ever doubted that ideas can change the world or if you ever wondered how read this book! --Laura Dassow Walls, author of the forthcoming Henry David Thoreau: A Life The Book That Changed America offers a lively, wide-ranging, informative account of the enthusiasm and consternation provoked by Darwin s masterpiece among his first influential American readers. --Lawrence Buell, Harvard University, Powell M Cabot Professor of American Literature Emeritus Randall Fuller has produced a vibrant and ingenious intellectual history of Civil War-era America by tracing the coterie circulation of a single copy of Charles Darwin s On the Origins of Species. Read and discussed by five of antebellum America s most conspicuous intellectuals, this copy of Darwin s dangerous book transformed how Asa Gray, Charles Loring Brace, Franklin Sanborn, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau thought about a range of contemporary issues, especially race, slavery, and increasing sectional tension in the United States. Fuller s beautifully written book promises to reignite a number of debates about evolution, the history of science, and the role of books and reading in the nineteenth century. --Coleman Hutchison, author of Apples and Ashes: Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America This is one of the most original and important books on the Civil War era to appear in years. Brilliantly conceived and elegantly written, Randall Fuller shows how and why Darwin s Origin of Species emerged at the center of intellectual and cultural debates that transformed the nation. John Stauffer, author of The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race Advance Praise for The Book That Changed America A vibrant history of the reception of Charles Darwin s ideas by American minds and spirits . . . Fuller creates a rich tapestry of personalities and roiling ideas. In radiant prose, and with a sure eye for the telling detail, [he] reveals the shattering impact of Darwin s book on religious thought, scientific inquiry, and especially on debates over slavery . . . A fresh, invigorating history of philosophical and political struggles. Kirkus Reviews (starred) In this inventive work, which weaves two powerful events into a vibrant tapestry of antebellum intellectual life, Fuller 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. . .Elegant writing and an unusual approach to interpreting the time period make this a must-read for everyone interested in Civil War-era history. Publishers Weekly (starred review) Charles Darwin's Origin of Species burst upon America at the same time that the nation was descending into disunion and civil war. Randall Fuller has ingeniously combined these stories in this fascinating study of Darwin's impact especially on the Transcendental intelligentsia of Concord: Thoreau, Emerson, Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May. These and other famous contemporaries emerge in a fresh perspective in this stimulating book. --James M. McPherson, author of The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters Randall Fuller s ingenious The Book That Changed America draws together seemingly disparate strains of American thought and activism by charting the progress of Darwin s masterwork as it was literally passed from hand to hand by eager readers during its first year of publication. There are dark stories here of the developmental theory evolution--inspiring notions of racial superiority; yet those who read Darwin with open minds were thrilled to find, as Thoreau wrote, evidence of a sort of new creation, or as Frederick Douglass foresaw, hope for the magnificent reunion of mankind in one brotherhood. With its cast of vivid characters and the fate of the nation in the balance, Fuller s utterly convincing narrative gives science a starring role in the run up to the Civil War. --Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life Randall Fuller makes Concord glow with this beautifully-written account of what happened in 1860 when somebody brought a new book along to a dinner party. It was the very first copy of Darwin s Origin of the Species to reach these shores, and in tracing its influence on Thoreau among others Fuller shows both the web of friendship through which scientific knowledge spread, and its inseparability from the politics of its day. --Michael Gorra, author of Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of An American Masterpiece Fuller s eye-opening account of the arrival of Darwin to America holds many surprises, above all that Origin of Species was greeted joyfully by its first American readers not as evolutionary science but as a revolutionary expose of the racist thinking behind Southern slavery. Even as the Civil War remade their world, these earliest readers wrestled with Darwin s ideas: some doubted, many accepted (more or less), and a few like Thoreau embraced the beauty of Darwin s view of life. Fuller shows how ideas come to life, shaped by chance meetings, life-changing enthusiasms, perverse misunderstandings, cataclysmic events, and sudden betrayals. If you ever doubted that ideas can change the world or if you ever wondered how read this book! --Laura Dassow Walls, author of the forthcoming Henry David Thoreau: A Life The Book That Changed America offers a lively, wide-ranging, informative account of the enthusiasm and consternation provoked by Darwin s masterpiece among his first influential American readers. --Lawrence Buell, Harvard University, Powell M Cabot Professor of American Literature Emeritus Randall Fuller has produced a vibrant and ingenious intellectual history of Civil War-era America by tracing the coterie circulation of a single copy of Charles Darwin s On the Origins of Species. Read and discussed by five of antebellum America s most conspicuous intellectuals, this copy of Darwin s dangerous book transformed how Asa Gray, Charles Loring Brace, Franklin Sanborn, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau thought about a range of contemporary issues, especially race, slavery, and increasing sectional tension in the United States. Fuller s beautifully written book promises to reignite a number of debates about evolution, the history of science, and the role of books and reading in the nineteenth century. --Coleman Hutchison, author of Apples and Ashes: Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America This is one of the most original and important books on the Civil War era to appear in years. Brilliantly conceived and elegantly written, Randall Fuller shows how and why Darwin s Origin of Species emerged at the center of intellectual and cultural debates that transformed the nation. John Stauffer, author of The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race Advance Praise for The Book That Changed America Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species burst upon America at the same time that the nation was descending into disunion and civil war. Randall Fuller has ingeniously combined these stories in this fascinating study of Darwin's impact especially on the Transcendental intelligentsia of Concord: Thoreau, Emerson, Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May. These and other famous contemporaries emerge in a fresh perspective in this stimulating book. -- James M. McPherson Praise for Randall Fuller s previous book, From Battlefields Rising: Fuller reminds us that the 1860s featured as talented a cohort of American writers as any decade could ask for. . . . He carefully details how these writers experienced the war in their daily routines, their family lives, and their interlocking friendships. The Boston Globe When the volcano of Civil War erupted in 1861, American literature had already achieved maturity in the writings of Emerson, Melville, Whitman, Hawthorne, and others. All of them tried to understand and express the profound meaning of the war in their writings, which Randall Fuller skillfully dissects in this original and incisive volume. James M McPherson


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