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Many years later, Charles Eliot Norton reflected that Darwin’s book was “as important, not only in its immediate but in its remote effects, as any ever issued from the press.” 9 Fuller’s primary focus is on the immediate effects in 1860, but The Book that Changed America gains strength by reminding us that the best books work far and wide. The Origin of Species didn’t lead directly to the US Civil War, it didn’t alter the constitutional basis of our democratic republic, and it didn’t reconfigure American literature overnight. But it brought together a vibrant intellectual community, putting men and women from various walks, fields, and locales into productive conflict and conversation. This meeting of minds was responsible for a significant transformation—slower than that advanced by the War, but perhaps equally profound. “The idea of the age is slow growth,” wrote Brace in 1869, a quotation Fuller offers on two separate occasions. More than any other intellectual historian before him, Fuller makes a convincing case that what Norton called the “remote effects” of Darwin’s book owe their origins to its earliest American readers.
Darwin Correspondence Project
Cambridge University Library