Book Review

Scott on Hoeveler’s _The Evolutionists_

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.

Read the full review here.

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Joe:

    If you get a chance, read Heather Cox Richardson’s new book West From Appomattox. She makes a very convincing case that the unifying theme of the Gilded Age was the revision of the free labor theory of American society.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for the suggestion…
    While I can not take credit for this nice review by Dr. John Thomas Scott, I can and will take your advice on Richardson’s new book. Dr. Scott did just what we hope our reviewers would do…By providing a pithy description of what a new work has to offer, and placing it into a web environment accessible to “Google” type searches, the review enticed me to read the book. I am nearing its completion and am also quite impressed by Hoeveler’s _The Evolutionists_. The book will help situate the ‘natural selection’ breakthroughs and their re-arrangement of American thinking about science, culture, politics, and the theory of knowledge. Moreover, Hoeveler packages this discussion for more comprehensive access by the advanced undergraduate. I will contact Heather Cox Richardson’s press about arranging for a review of _West From Appomattox_ in these review pages. Please stay tuned! Again, thanks for the notice.

    Just a further note: Our reviewing staff is growing, and we hope to be offering more reviews in this USIH format. If a press or author is interested in having USIH reviewers take notice of new books we would welcome their inquiries. (See the book review link on the right hand side of the blog.) And we always appreciate comments, both about our reviews and for suggestions for future reviews.

  3. Joe: I will check out Hoeveler’s book. Another one, of course, I have found quite useful has been Sidney Fine’s classic, Laissez Faire and the General Welfare State: A Study of Conflict in American Thought, 1865-1901. I am confident that you find that Hoeveler’s thesis dove-tails nicely with Heather Cox Richardson’s description of the Gilded Age as a struggle over how antebellum Republican free labor theory comported with post-Civil War America. Cox discusses Sumner and how “social darwinism” was used as yet another rationalization for American society as one of economic harmony where the frugal, temperate, church-going and hard-working succeed, but the ill-tempered, class-minded agitator does not.

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    Thanks for the reminder about Fine’s book. I read it many years ago in a great Economic History course taught by Professor Jack Blicksilver at the Economics program at Georgia State University. It was one of those moments when one discovers history to be more than battles, treaties, and elections. The course helped convert a macro-economist into a micro-historian! I share with Dr. Scott a quest for just the right window into the post-reconstruction era, and tend to herd my classes too quickly from the heartbreak of reconstruction to the arguments over the nature of American society at the turn of the 20th Century (free land, free labor, free thought, free markets.) Given my druthers, I would linger on the American Revolution for nearly the entire survey course, jumping directly to the squabble between the Beard thesis and the Bailyn observation just in time for the final exam. You recommendations remind me of ways to balance the narrative.

    Thanks again for the memory!

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