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

Front Cover
Penguin, 2017 - Evolution (Biology) - 294 pages
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.
 

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - AliceaP - LibraryThing

Most would agree that Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species created a stir among the scientific and religious communities when it was first published (some could argue it's still wreaking havoc to ... Read full review

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

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

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 ... Read full review

Contents

Grays Botany
13
A Night at the Lyceum
51
Bones of Contention
79
The WhatIsIt?
96
AJolt of Recognition
136
Discord in Concord
161
Moods
172
Meditations in a Garden
181
The Succession of Forest Trees
190
Races of the Old World
196
At Down House
219
The Ghost of John Brown
231
In the Transcendental Graveyard
242
Acknowledgments
251
Selected Bibliography
277
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2017)

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.

Bibliographic information