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 The methods he espoused remain important today even though his theories were outdated in his own time.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.
and#160; "Evocative new biographyand#8230;.Irmscher is a richly descriptive writer with an eye for detail, the compexities and contradictions of character, and the workings of institutional and familial power structuresand#8230;.This book is not just about a man of science but also about a scientific culture in the makingand#8212;warts and all."
and#8212;The New York Times Book Review "Compelling biography...A masterful portrait illuminating the tangled human dynamics of science."
"In Irmscherand#8217;s hands, Agassizand#8217;s life and passions are embedded in the major intellectual ideas of his timeand#8230;. The relationship between Agassiz and his second wife, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, the first president of Radcliffe College, is also fascinating."
"Christoph Irmscher's elegant, beautifully written account does the essential task of setting the mysterious Agassiz in his full social and historical context, where we can both appreciate his gifts and see his flaws clearly. His portrayal of Elizabeth Agassiz and her contributions is brilliant, and his exploration of Agassiz's stagnation, as the world turned without him, is both rigorous and poignant. Through the prism of Agassiz's life, much of 19th-century culture gleams freshly."
and#8212;Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal "A biography as exuberant as its brilliant but wrong-headed subject, the unforgettable forgotten celebrity scientist Louis Agassiz. Christoph Irmscher is in his element detailing the exploits of this larger-than-life anti-hero of the Age of Darwin, whose feats of discovery took him from the Swiss Alps to the Amazon jungle and made him Harvardand#8217;s reigning eminence for decades."
and#8212;Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters and Margaret Fuller "Christoph Irmscher has brought to life an essential figure in the history of American science and culture. Irmscher's expertise and talent for vivid prose open a fascinating window onto the origins of American science as we know it."
and#8212;Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club "A thoroughly satisfying biographyand#8230;Irmscher makes a convincing case that this egotistical, often wrongheaded figure deserves his reputation as a founder and first great popularizer of American science."
and#8212;Kirkus Reviews "Reading this book is a pleasure - the writing is engaging and witty, while always intellectually rewarding and#8230;. Irmscher's account of Agassiz's life reminds us always to examine our own preconceptions concerning the nature of reality and man's place in the universe."
and#8212;Tom Cronin, Professor of Biology, University of Maryland and#160;
"A biographical study of the highest order . . . [that I] will recall vividly for years to come." --Jay Parini, author of One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner
"To read Richardson's William James is to share this brilliant American philosopher's wild ride down "the great river of mind." --Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters
"This book is a gift of magic. . . . the powerful and various mind of William James is returned to us, alive." --Tracy Kidder
"Wonderful . . . a treat . . . In Robert D. Richardson, James has a kindred spirit." --Robert Stone
"A gripping and often inspiring story of intellectual and spiritual adventure." --Justin Kaplan Publishers Weekly, Starred
"A stunning book, eloquent, learned, ebullient and fully commensurate with its impassioned subject . . . Every unerring, brilliant page is a gift." --Brenda Wineapple, author of Hawthorne: A Life and Sister Brother Gertrude and Leo Stein
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.
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.
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."
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
Preface xiii Prologue 1
I . Growing Up Zigzag
1. Art Is My Vocation 11 2. Growing Up Zigzag 17 3. Newport and the Jameses 24 4. The Father 28 5. Newport and the Jameses, Continued 33 6. Harvard, 1861 41 7. Science and the Civil War 48 8. Comparative Anatomy and Medical School 56 9. The Gulls at the Mouth of the Amazon 65 10. Tea Squalls and a Life According to Nature 74 11. We Must Be Our Own Providence 81 12. A Dead and Drifting Life 85 13. Minnie Temple 94 14. William James, M.D. 101 15. Treading Water 104 16. The End of Youth 108
II . The Action of Consciousness
17. Hitting Bottom 117 18. The Turn to Physiology 123 19. The Metaphysical Club and Chauncey Wright 128 20. Charles Peirce 133 21. Cambridge and Harvard, 1872 139 22. Teaching 141 23. To Europe and Back 148 24. Emerson, Mill, and Blood 153 25. From Physiology to Physiological Psychology 161 26. Days of Rapture and Heartbreak 168 27. The Trouble with Herbert Spencer 176 28. The Action of Consciousness 183
III . The Principles of Psychology
29. Spaces 193 30. The Heart Wants Its Chance 199 31. The Feeling of Effort 203 32. Hegel in Cambridge 211 33. Death of a Mother 217 34. Goodbye, My Sacred Old Father 223 35. The Wonderful Stream of Our Consciousness 230 36. Not a Simple Temperament 236 37. What Is an Emotion? 240 38. The Literary Remains of Henry James Sr. 245 39. The Death of Herman 253 40. Mrs. Piper 257 41. My Only Absolutely Satisfying Companion 264 42. Hypnotism and Summers at Chocorua 268 43. Instinct and Will 275 44. Santayana at Harvard 283 45. The Psychology of Belief 287 46. Reunion with Alice: The Hidden Self 291
IV. The Varieties of Religious Experience
47. Response to Principles and the Moral Philosopher 301 48. Flooded by the Deep Life 310 49. The Death of Alice James 318 50. European Sabbatical 326 51. Abnormal Psych 1 332 52. Talks to Teachers 339 53. Abnormal Psych 2 344 54. Sarah, Rosina, and Pauline 349 55. Is Life Worth Living? 354 56. The Gospel of Relaxation 357 57. The Right to Believe 361 58. High Tide 366 59. Walpurgisnacht 372 60. California 376 61. A Certain Blindness 380 62. The Logic of the Absolute 385 63. Religion Is Real 389 64. The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness 394 65. The Sick Soul: Slouching Toward Edinburgh 398 66. The Twice-Born 402 67. Voluntary Poverty 407 68. The Mystical Center 412
V. The Philosopher
69. William James at Sixty 419 70. Bergson 424 71. The Ph.D. Octopus and Deweyand#8217;s New School 428 72. Emerson 432 73. The True Harvard 435 74. A Life of Interruptions 439 75. The Many and the One 444 76. The Modern Moment: Radical Empiricism 446 77. Schiller versus Bradley versus James 451 78. Royce: Pragmatic Stirrings 456 79. William and Henry 459 80. California Dreaming 468 81. Earthquake 474 82. A General Theory of Human Action 477 83. Pragmatism 484 84. The Energies of Men 489 85. The Harvard Elective System Applied to the Universe 491 86. The True Race of Prophets 497 87. A Pluralistic Universe 502 88. Psychical Researches Redux 506 89. The Meaning of Truth 510 90. Ever Not Quite 514
Epilogue 521 Chronology 525 James Family Genealogy 528 Notes 530 Principal Sources 586 Index 590