"How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation" (Encore Presentation)

Jul 25, 2017

(Note: This program first aired back in January.) On this edition of ST, we speak with Randall Fuller, the Chapman Professor of English here at TU. He joins us to discuss his book, "The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation." As the historian Eric Foner wrote of this work in The New York Times: "[Fuller's] account of how Americans responded to the publication of Darwin's great work in 1859 is organized as a series of lively and informative set pieces -- dinners, conversations, lectures -- with reactions to 'On the Origin of Species' usually (but not always) at the center. Fuller focuses on a group of New England writers, scientists, and social reformers. He begins with a dinner party on New Year's Day, 1860, at the home of Franklin B. Sanborn, a schoolmaster in Concord, Mass. The guest of honor was Charles Loring Brace, a graduate of Yale and founder of the Children's Aid Society, which worked to assist the thousands of orphaned, abandoned, and runaway children who populated the streets of New York City. Also present was Amos Bronson Alcott (Louisa May Alcott's father), a local school superintendent so garrulous that his neighbors would start walking in the opposite direction when they saw him coming to avoid an interminable discourse on one subject or another. Henry David Thoreau was there as well, taking a break from his hermit-like existence on Walden Pond. Brace brought to the gathering a copy of Darwin's new book, which he had borrowed from his cousin Asa Gray, a professor of natural history at Harvard. Fuller explores how these and other figures reacted to their encounter with Darwin's ideas.... Fuller is a lively, engaging writer, with an eye for fascinating details. His subjects wrote copious letters, kept diaries, gave speeches, and recorded their conversations with one another. Fuller has mined this rich material with care and insight."