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.
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.