Hoeveler, J. David. The Evolutionists: American Thinkers Confront Charles Darwin, 1860-1920. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007. 250 pp. (Paperback) Bibliography. ISBN-13: 978-0-7425-1175-0
The Evolutionists: A “Classroom” Review
Review by John Thomas Scott, Mercer University
Having taught a one-semester survey of American Intellectual History for a number of years now, I have always found the Gilded Age to be the most challenging sections to teach. The colonial period, with the Puritans and the Enlightenment, comes easy. The Revolutionary and Early National Periods, containing the wonderful debates about political rights and governmental powers, flows naturally, and the Antebellum Period, suffused with the conflicts between the Whigs and Democrats on the one hand and the nationalists and sectionalists on the other, provides ample fodder for classroom discussion. From the turn of the twentieth century on, as well, the topics come easily: progressivism, liberalism, and conservatism, ideologies of the foreign threats of fascism, communism, and Islamicism, and feminist and civil rights ideologies to boot! The Gilded Age, though, often seems to lack both the coherence and the fire of these other ages. Certainly no President or statesman emerged to encapsulate the ideas of the age—no Jefferson or Teddy Roosevelt, or Kennedy. Choosing reading assignments for this period can be daunting. J. David Hoeveler’s new monograph, The Evolutionists, provides an alternative intellectual nucleus around which the ideas of the Gilded and Progressive Eras orbited—not the ideas of a politician but of a scientist, Charles Darwin.