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

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

by Randall Fuller


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525428336
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/24/2017
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

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.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Part I Origins

1 The Book from Across the Atlantic 3

2 Gray's Botany 13

3 Beetles, Birds, Theories 18

4 Word of Mouth 29

5 Making a Stir 43

6 A Night at the Lyceum 51

7 The Nick of Time 63

Part II Struggles

8 Bones of Contention 79

9 Agassiz 84

10 The What-Is-It? 96

11 A Spirited Conflict 107

12 Into the Vortex 116

13 Tree of Life 128

14 A Jolt of Recognition 136

15 Wildfires 147

Part III Adaptations

16 Discord in Concord 161

17 Moods 172

18 Meditations in a Garden 181

19 The Succession of Forest Trees 190

20 Races of the Old World 196

21 A Cold Shudder 204

Part IV Transformations

22 At Down House 219

23 The Ghost of John Brown 231

24 In the Transcendental Graveyard 242

Acknowledgments 251

Notes 253

Selected Bibliography 277

Index 285

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