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The book that changed America : how Darwin's theory of evolution ignited a nation / Randall Fuller.

  • Fuller, Randall, 1963-
  • Books

About this work


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.

"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.


New York : Viking, [2017]

Physical description

x, 294 pages, 8 unnumbered leaves of plates : black and white illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm

Bibliographic information

Includes bibliographical references and index.


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 -- Struggles. Bones of contention ; Agassiz ; The what-is-it? ; A spirited conflict ; Into the vortex ; Tree of life ; A jolt of recognition ; Wildfires -- Adaptations. Discord in Concord ; Moods ; Meditations in a garden ; The succession of forest trees ; Race of the Old World ; A cold shudder -- Transformations. At Down House ; The ghost of John Brown ; In the transcendental graveyard.


  • English

Where to find it

  • LocationStatus
    History of Medicine
    Open shelves

Permanent link



  • 9780525428336
  • 052542833X