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Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Scienceby Christoph Irmscher
Synopses & Reviews
Charismatic and controversial, Louis Agassiz is our least known revolutionaryand#8212;some fifty years after American independence, he became a founding father of American science.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago, a Swiss immigrant took America by storm, launching American science as we know it. The irrepressible Louis Agassiz, legendary at a young age for his work on mountain glaciers, focused his prodigious energies on the fauna of the New World. Invited to deliver a series of lectures in Boston, he never left, becoming the most famous scientist of his time. A pioneer in field research and an obsessive collector, Agassiz enlisted the American public in a vast campaign to send him natural specimens, dead or alive, for his ingeniously conceived museum of comparative zoology. As an educator of enduring impact, he trained a generation of American scientists and science teachers, men and women alike. Irmscher sheds new light on Agassizand#8217;s fascinating partnership with his brilliant wife, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, a science writer in her own right who would go on to become the first president of Radcliffe College.and#160;
But thereand#8217;s a dark side to the story. Irmscher adds unflinching evidence of Agassizand#8217;s racist impulses and shows how avidly Americans looked to men of science to mediate race policy. The bookand#8217;s potent, original scenes include the pitched battle between Agassiz and his student Henry James Clark as well as the merciless, often amusing exchanges between Darwin and Harvard botanist Asa Gray over Agassizand#8217;s stubborn resistance to evolution.
A fascinating life story, both inspiring and cautionary, for anyone interested in the history of American ideas.
"Agassiz (1807 — 1873), a defining force in American science in the 19th century, was a complex man, as Irmscher demonstrates in this new biography: he was a brilliant scientist who rejected evolution, a man who valued friendship but abandoned his first wife. In Irmscher's hands, Agassiz's life and passions are embedded in the major intellectual ideas of his time, not only evolution but also the fight over abolition (he was an 'incorrigible racist'). But Agassiz, from his position at Harvard, helped move the scientific enterprise toward reliance upon data and empirical observation. The methods he espoused remain important today even though his theories were outdated in his own time. Irmscher, an English professor at Indiana University (Longfellow Redux), sees Agassiz's life as a cautionary tale: Agassiz lost objectivity as he permitted his own opinions to overshadow the data he loved so much. His attacks on Darwin and on racial equality often ran counter to basic scientific observations and led to his increasing marginalization later in life. The relationship between Agassiz and his second wife, Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz, the first president of Radcliffe College, is also fascinating and illuminates the strength of one woman and the expanding opportunities for women in general in American society. Illus." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Aand#160;provocative new life restoring Agassiz--America's most famous natural scientist of the nineteenth century, inventor of theand#160;Ice Age, stubborn anti-Darwinist--to his glorious, troubling place in science and culture.
The definitive biography of the fascinating William James, whose life and writing put an indelible stamp on psychology, philosophy, teaching, and religion — on modernism itself
Pivotal member of the Metaphysical Club, author of The Varieties of Religious Experience, eldest sibling in the extraordinary James family, William emerges here as an immensely complex and curious man.
William James, ten years in the making, draws on a vast number of unpublished letters, journals, and family records to illuminate what James himself called the "buzzing blooming confusion" of his life. Richardson shows James struggling to achieve amid the domestic chaos and intellectual brilliance of his father, his brother Henry, and his sister Alice. There are portraits of James's early years as a student at the appallingly hidebound Harvard of the 1860s. And there are the harrowing suicidal episodes, after which James, still a young man, turns from depression to action with "a heave of will." Through impassioned scholarship, Richardson illuminates James's hugely influential works: the Varieties, Principles of Psychology, Talks to Teachers, and Pragmatism.
As a longtime professor James taught courage and risk-taking. He was W.E.B. Du Bois's adviser and teacher, and he told another of his students, Gertrude Stein, to reject nothing — that rejecting anything was the beginning of the end for an intellectual. One of the great figures in mysticism, James coined the phrase "stream of consciousness."
One hundred and fifty years ago, a Swiss immigrant took America by storm, launching modern American science. The charismatic Louis Agassiz, who first made a name for himself by discovering how glaciers form, was a zoologist by the time he came to deliver a series of lectures in Boston. He never left, becoming the most famous scientist of his time. A pioneer in field research and an obsessive collector, Agassiz enlisted the American public in a vast campaign to send him natural specimens, dead or alive, for his ingeniously conceived museum of comparative zoology. An educator of enduring impact, he trained a generation of American scientists and science teachers, men and women alike. Christoph Irmscher uncovers the dark side, too, of this founding father of modern American science, revealing him as Darwin's arch-enemy regarding the theory of evolution, and as a racist who put his own stamp on post-Civil War racial policies. A provocative, fascinating life story—both inspiring and cautionary—for anyone interested in the history of American ideas.
About the Author
Christoph Irmscher,andnbsp;professor of English at Indiana University,andnbsp;is editor of the Library of America John James Audubon and author of Longfellow Redux, called "one of the most important books on Longfellow ever written" (Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club and editor of Dante's Inferno: The Longfellow Translation).
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
AGASSIZ AT REST 9
THE ICE KING 41
HUMBOLDTS GIFT 85
DARWINS BARNACLES, AGASSIZS JELLYFISH 121
MR. CLARKS HEADACHE 168
A PINT OF INK 219
A DELICATE BALANCE 270
A GALÁPAGOS PICNIC 311
Abbreviations and Notes 357
Select Bibliography 403
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