Why The Atlantic's 1860 Review Was a Key Victory for Darwin

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The Atlantic's Asa Gray (1810-1888) had a big hit today on our website with his 1860 review of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. In fact, it is currently edging out a post about iPhone tips and tricks in the traffic rankings.

Seeing that, Wired Science blogger David Dobbs brought out an archival piece of his own -- a chapter from his book Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral that describes how Darwin won over Gray, i.e. the backstory for the review that 151 years later is making waves anew on our website.

Here's Dobbs:

Gray's review provided a pivotal victory for Darwin: It gave his highly controversial theory, which he had published the previous December, the support of one of America's most respected scientists. Gray proved a key and effective advocate for Darwin in the U.S., especially during 1860, when he thrice defeated in debate America's most prominent scientist, the zoologist Louis Agassiz. Agassiz, a creationist, resisted Darwin's theory ferociously. He did so both because he disagreed and because he himself had become the country's most famous scientist by beautifully articulating a vision of species as works of God. He had built his career on this vision. He knew he had to defeat Darwin or go down himself.

Now go read the rest!

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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