A fresh, invigorating history of philosophical and political struggles.

A vibrant history of the reception of Charles Darwin’s ideas by American minds and spirits.

With the theory of evolution still generating controversy, Fuller (English/Univ. of Tulsa; From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature, 2011, etc.), a Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, focuses on the immediate response to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by a handful of prominent American thinkers: Harvard botanist Asa Gray, first to read the book; his intellectual adversary Louis Agassiz; transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau; ardent abolitionist and educator Franklin Sanborn; Bronson Alcott, “the most radical idealist in America”; and Charles Loring Brace, a social reformer who shared his cousin Gray’s copy with his New England friends. Drawing on his protagonists’ public and private writings and letters, steeped in mid-19th-century culture, Fuller creates a rich tapestry of personalities and roiling ideas. In radiant prose, and with a sure eye for the telling detail, the author reveals the shattering impact of Darwin’s book on religious thought, scientific inquiry, and especially on debates over slavery and, indeed, on the status of blacks on the evolutionary scale from beast to man. Even those who did not read the book itself, though it was easily available, had access to its ideas from reviews in important magazines, many of which “focused on the work’s ethnological implications” to racial theories or criticized Darwin for undermining religion. Gray, who championed Darwin’s ideas, tried mightily to reconcile them with his own theological convictions. Could natural selection “explain all of nature’s marvels?” he asked. Surely it would take some omnipotent designer to create the human eye. Fuller asserts that “every nuance and involution in the book” refocused Thoreau’s investigations into nature, and he shows how both pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists used Darwin’s theories to defend their positions. Lincoln was vilified in pro-slavery cartoons, portrayed as a gorilla or “the missing link between blacks and whites.”

A fresh, invigorating history of philosophical and political struggles.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-42833-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Close Quickview