Randall Fuller


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

This event includes a book signing


February 14, 2017
8:00 PM


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

Randall Fuller
Randall Fuller

Randall Fuller

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 Chapman Professor of English at the University of Tulsa.

Photo credit: Erik Campos

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

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.

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