The Book That Changed America:
How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation
This event includes a book signing
February 14, 2017
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store welcomes the award-winning author of From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature RANDALL FULLER for a discussion of his latest book, The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation.
About The Book That Changed America
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.
"A must-read for everyone interested in Civil-War-era history." —Publishers Weekly
"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, starred review
"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
"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
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
Unable to attend a Harvard Book Store author event? You can still pre-order a signed book by one of our visiting authors.
While we can't guarantee fulfillment of a signed book pre-order, our authors are almost always able to sign extra books to fulfill such orders.
Ordering a signed book on harvard.com:
- Add the book to your shopping cart and then click Checkout.
- Specify in Order Comments that you want a signed copy of the book.
- Please note: online orders for signed copies must be placed at least one business day before the event. If you are ordering the day of, please call us instead.
Ordering a signed book by phone:
- Call us at (617) 661-1515 and one of our booksellers will take your order. Specify you'd like a signed copy.
- If you are requesting a personalized inscription and/or requesting your book be shipped, we'll need to take down credit card information. If you are planning to pick up the signed book in the store, you can pay on pick-up.
Can I request a personalized inscription?
Unless otherwise noted, we are happy to take requests for the author to sign your book to a specific person, but we can't guarantee it. If you do get a personalized inscription, the book will be non-returnable. We will require credit card information when you place the order.
Do signed books cost more?
There is no extra fee for a signed book!
Do I have to pick it up in the store, or can you deliver my signed book?
As with all web or phone orders, we can hold your book for in-store pickup, or ship it anywhere in the country.
I am planning to attend an author event. Do I need to pre-order a book?
No need. We'll be selling books at the event, and nearly all of our events include a signing at the end of the talk.
More questions? Give us a call!
Featured event books will be for sale at the event for 20% off. Thank you for supporting this author series with your purchases.
Author event updates +
In your inbox, once a week.
Shipping & Delivery
and options, locally
Signed First Edition Club
A unique way for readers to create a wealth of great books—Get a membership for yourself or for a gift!Learn More »