MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Excerpt from Banquet at Delmonico's by Barry Werth, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Banquet at Delmonico's

Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America

by Barry Werth

Banquet at Delmonico's by Barry Werth X
Banquet at Delmonico's by Barry Werth
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2009, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 400 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Micah Gell-Redman
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

CAMBRIDGE, 1871
Eleven years earlier

What a set of men you have in Cambridge. Both our universities put together cannot furnish the like. Why there is Agassiz - he counts for three.
- Charles Darwin to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1868

Even after he was ousted as the premier naturalist of his age and the most celebrated man of science in America - even as he suffered, at age sixty-two, a cerebral hemorrhage that first paralyzed him, then required him to take to his bed for most of a year, forbidden by his doctors to smoke his beloved cigars or even to think, either of which they predicted might kill him - Harvard professor Louis Agassiz never stopped spinning grand plans or forging ahead with them. Preternaturally ambitious, a large, vibrant man of murderous industry, deft political skill, and outsize charm, Agassiz identified himself as no less than a reflection of the universe, mirroring its magnificence through his ability to observe and explain the natural world. He also considered himself the herald of the rapid advance of knowledge in America, his adopted land - an intellectual high priest for a rising, if still uncertain, world power. And so, though it had been a year since he’d been all but marginalized on campus following the selection of a new president, Agassiz remained baldly optimistic about the future.

How could he not? Other than the risks to his health brought on by overwork with each new venture, fortune seemed to favor his every step.


The son of a strong-willed assistant pastor to the Protestant congregation of a lakeside village in French-speaking Switzerland who married well, he was his parents’ fifth child but the first to survive infancy, and as a student he displayed a rare surplus of talent, energy, imagination, fearlessness, and determination. At twenty-nine, an intrepid adventurer studying glaciers in the Alps, he descended alone at one point 120 feet into a crystal-blue abyss, and mounted at another a massive section of the earth’s crust that had vaulted upward to almost fourteen thousand feet. He was the first scientist to propose that a prehistoric ice age had gripped the earth, and that extinct giant tropical quadrupeds such as mastodons had been wiped out by a worldwide Siberian freeze. "Their reign was over," he announced. "A sudden intense winter, that was also to last for ages, fell upon our globe."

In an early triumph of paleontology, Agassiz conducted a comprehensive study of every fossil fish in every major collection on the Continent, establishing himself as a tireless investigator and winning him favor with two of Europe’s most influential naturalists, who delighted in opening doors for him. His bonhomie and good luck were inexhaustible: when his first wife, upset over his obsessive work habits and troubled finances, left him (she later died of tuberculosis), he took off to lecture in America, where Harvard promptly created a scientific school for him and where he married the daughter of a wealthy lawyer, a pillar of New England society.

Yet what most distinguished Agassiz’s career was his superiority at getting others - not just important individuals and adoring audiences, but institutions and, ultimately, governments - to adopt his outlook and objectives. Less than a decade after he arrived in America in 1846, outsiders began referring to the famous Saturday Club as "Agassiz’s Club." During the Civil War, he and his so-called Scientific Lazzaroni, a close network self-mockingly named for Florentine beggars, created a national scientific enterprise with themselves in charge, soliciting Congress to found the National Academy of Sciences. Dominated by Agassiz and his allies, it would serve as an equivalent of the French Academy, providing government subsidies, publications, and other spurs to selected research.

Excerpted from Banquet at Delmonico's by Barry Werth. Copyright © 2009 by Barry Werth. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Social Darwinism

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hamnet
    Hamnet
    by Maggie O'Farrell
    William Shakespeare's name is never used in Hamnet — a conspicuous absence around which Maggie...
  • Book Jacket: After the Last Border
    After the Last Border
    by Jessica Goudeau
    According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the number of displaced people around the world is ...
  • Book Jacket: Crossings
    Crossings
    by Alex Landragin
    Crossings is a beautiful, if slightly messy, time-bending debut. It reads like a vampire novel, sans...
  • Book Jacket: Pew
    Pew
    by Catherine Lacey
    A quote often attributed to Leo Tolstoy states that "All great literature is one of two stories; a ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Hieroglyphics
    by Jill McCorkle

    A mesmerizing novel about piecing together the hieroglyphics of history and memory.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    With or Without You
    by Caroline Leavitt

    A moving novel about twists of fate, the shifting terrain of love, and coming into your own.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Every Bone a Prayer
by Ashley Blooms

The the story of one tough-as-nails girl whose choices are few but whose fight is boundless.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Every Bone a Prayer

Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms

A beautifully honest exploration of healing and of hope.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T Real M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.