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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Micah Gell-Redman

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Before leaving for the Continent, Youmans dined with the botanist Sir Joseph Hooker, the first recognized man of science to risk his reputation by publicly supporting Darwin. It was Hooker, director of the worldfamous Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew, who had introduced Darwin to Asa Gray. Weeks earlier, at Spencer’s urging, Hooker had invited Youmans to Kew, where they now discussed at length not the international series but Youmans’s decision to endow Spencer. Hooker recently had tried to do the same for Gray, but the deal soured when Gray "gave the money to Harvard instead," he explained. "You did better for Spencer," he told Youmans.

Your work told where it should: Spencer is the mighty thinker among us. And what a splendid talker. He talks right at you like a book, and his language is so fluent and adaptive! He is all right now. The recognition of his genius is now complete. What a lucky thing it was that he failed in getting a consulate or some other public appointment when he began his Philosophy. . . . No man can do great original work and be hampered by the cares of a position. The thing is impossible. The work must have the whole man. That is why I have tried to get Gray free in America. You Americans don’t know how much of a man Gray is. But he is hampered with students’ work, and

In mid-November, Beecher, the fifty-nine-year-old pastor of Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in thriving Brooklyn Heights, received a note from thirty-three-year-old Victoria Woodhull, celebrated copublisher of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which advanced among other causes women’s suffrage, shoetop-length skirts, spirit contact with the dead, free love, vegetarianism, and licensed prostitution. Some months earlier a vague, menacing statement had appeared in her newspaper:

Civilization is festering to the bursting point in our great cities and notably in Brooklyn. . . . At this very moment, awful and Herculean efforts are being made to suppress the most terrific scandal which has ever astounded and convulsed any community. . . . We have the inventory of discarded husbands and wives and lovers, with dates, circumstances and establishments.

Since then Beecher had resisted Woodhull’s efforts to meet with him. Men of God, like politicians, grow accustomed to accusations of infidelity, but Beecher, an antislavery and women’s rights paragon, feared that Woodhull could destroy him. More than a year earlier his parishioner Elizabeth Tilton had confessed to her husband, Theodore, a popular newspaper editor, poet, reformer, and devoted friend and follower of Beecher’s, that she and Beecher had been sexually intimate. Rumors of the charge coincided with Woodhull’s sensational rise to national prominence. Betrothed to an alcoholic with whom she bore a profoundly retarded son at age fifteen, she had eked out a living in the years before the war operating séances, telling fortunes, and peddling patent medicines and abortifacients before finally divorcing him, marrying an anarchist, and moving with both of them (her first husband was now infirm) to New York City. With her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she soon came under the wing of railroad and shipping mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt, who established them as the first female brokers on Wall Street, where in six months they made enough money to enter the rising mainstream of Manhattan society, establish their weekly, and launch Woodhull into politics.

A businesswoman, Woodhull wore tailored, mannish jackets, skirts that ended above the ankle, and colored neckties, trappings that downplayed her passions and rage at society, though only slightly. She was dark-eyed, surprisingly elegant considering her history, and slimmer than her sister, whom Vanderbilt, an illiterate transportation genius with a wife and thirteen children, liked to call "my little sparrow" as he cooed to her and bounced her on his knee in his office.

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" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Social Darwinism

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Caught in the Revolution
    Caught in the Revolution
    by Helen Rappaport
    So taken were BookBrowse's First Impression reviewers by the inside look at the start of the Russian...
  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading, you wish the author that wrote it was a ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

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 books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -