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I would have never predicted writing this sentence, but I felt the author was too much of a Darwinist for my tastes English professors are the most strident defenders of Darwin in the academy, so when you commission an EngProf to write about this topic it will lack balance If your sympathies for Darwinian thought overshadow your interest in its predecessors, by all means, read this book and sneer If you are genuinely interested in Agassiz and his work, look elsewhere. I m sure I read about Louis Agassiz in high school, probably required reading in biology class But I never really had a sense of the full person Christoph Irmscher gives us that picture Agassiz is not a pleasant fellow always a charmer, yes, but don t cross his path and be careful of how much of your own research you share with him An anti Darwinian evolutionist to the end, Agassiz had his own views of things, which he cultivated in his own domain Harvard s Lawrence Scientific School Following Agassiz through Irmscher s well written and researched book is eye opening, especially the trail of bodies he leaves in his wake, subordinates who didn t have a chance against the bombastic, self promoting scientist Although Irmscher subtitles his book, Creator of American Science, that s an arguable point Next book on the docket Benjamin Silliman A Life in the Young Republic, which explores Silliman s important role in bringing science curricula to American universities in the early 19th century, forty or fifty years before Agassiz. This is taken from my review appearing in the March 14, 2013 issue of the Christian Science Monitor.In the introduction to his wonderful new biography Louis Agassiz Creator of American Science, Christoph Irmscher carefully lists some of the undelightful aspects of the life and work of the eminent Swiss zoologist, glaciologist, and paleontologist his shabby treatment of his first wife, whom he left when he traveled to the new world his relentless resistance to Darwinism and perhaps most of all his reprehensible belief that America belonged to whites only And it doesn t get much better from there.Agassiz born Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz , a world renowned and celebrated Swiss born scientist whose name, than 100 years later, would grace street signs, schools, and even a mountain range inSwitzerland, recently had his reputation almost single handedly felled by a Cambridge, Mass., eighth grader The student, who attended the Agassiz School there, discovered Agassiz s abhorrent racial views in an edition of biologist Stephen A Gould s The Mismeasure of Man The horrified student, Irmscher writes, suggested that the school change its name, which it did Irmscher, a professor of English at Indiana University, asks some very difficult questions about Agassiz s legacy at the onset of this biography Despite the book s rather generous subtitle, Irmscher ultimately cannot reconcile Agassiz s numerous and significant scientific achievements with his abhorrent views on evolution and race.For example, Agassiz was an early and vociferous proponent of such biological quackery as polygenism the idea that races of humans stemmed from distinct and different ancestors and thus were of separate origin as well as miscegenation, or racial admixture within a society Agassiz could also be called a prototypical 19th century racial philosopher because of his curious obsession with comparative brain size and cranial capacity, and their relationship to intelligence among races of humans.Agassiz, always the charismatic showman, compounded the damage to his own reputation by regaling attendees at a Charleston, S.C., conference with his racial sophistry, which unfortunately encouraged and enabled much of America s pro slavery faction His patrons included the notorious Alabama physician Josiah C Nott, who, as the owner of nine slaves, sought out Agassiz s counsel to validate his own theories about the subjugation of blacks through slavery Nott infamously stated that those indentured achieved their greatest perfection, physical and moral as well as longevity , in a state of slavery Agassiz and other scientists who espoused polygenism also emboldened colonialists, who believed that the inherent superiority of the white race gave credence to Kipling s white man s burden the obligation and duty of whites to rule over other, presumably inferior, races.Agassiz s youth in Switzerland had a powerful influence on his own attitudes toward his family, students, and colleagues His autocratic father was a merchant with both a manipulative personality and a provincial worldview He sought to control his son s career path by repeatedly suggesting that studying to become a zoologist with two doctoral degrees, no less was a waste of time and money Agassiz s mother was also aggressive, perhaps even abusive The pressure she exerted on Agassiz s beautiful and artistically talented wife C cilie Silli Braun to subject herself to her husband s ambitions left Silli feeling helpless and abandoned.Eventually in an act Irmscher likens to that of a modern woman Silli took their children and left Agassiz In September, 1846, Agassiz, whose writings and traveling lectures on glaciers, Brazilian fishes, and other exotic and arcane topics had brought him worldwide acclaim, would leave Europefor good to accept a professorship at Harvard University And Silli, who once illustrated her husband s published works and shared his professional enthusiasms, would die in loneliness and despair two years later.Agassiz s second wife, Elizabeth Cabot Cary, fared considerably better Born into blue blood Boston in 1822, Lizzie Cary had a powerful intellect rivaling that of Agassiz She employed her intelligence to her future husband s advantage as well as her own by editing his books and other writings But hidden underneath the scholarly veneer and the strenuously rational language of their correspondence, Elizabeth had a true, lasting affection for Agassiz Following their marriage in 1850, she sought to realize her keen interest in education by starting a private school for young girls in the attic of their Quincy Street home Twenty two years after Agassiz s death, she became the first president of Radcliffe College In between, she accompanied Agassiz on his Charleston lectures and assisted him in gathering specimens on the Galapagos Islands And in her attempt to solidify her late husband s legacy, she also authored a comprehensive and well regarded biography of Agassiz.Alexander von Humboldt, the pre eminent zoologist during Agassiz s youth, also had a profoundly important influence on Agassiz s career Mentor, patron, and cheerleader to Agassiz, von Humboldt had royal patrons, which gave him wealth and added to his prestige He would write fawning letters to Agassiz, and his scion would respond with equally fawning, almost obsequious, replies But if anyone could conjure insecurities in Agassiz, it was von Humboldt, whom Irmscher likens to Agassiz s surrogate father the one who really saw Agassiz s scholarly potential and unselfishly nurtured and financed it.Agassiz s anxiety about von Humboldt s towering legacy was never in evidence than when Agassiz was asked to prepare a series of lectures at Harvard on the occasion of what would have been von Humboldt s 100th birthday in 1869 Agassiz fretted about every detail, and was adamant that it be carried off perfectly in other words, to his own satisfaction.Agassiz s career long competition with English naturalist Charles Darwin was focused on a few distinct areas of contention, including Darwin s theories of evolution and natural selection, in which Darwin emphasized an evolutionary process for the adaptation of species dependent on their mobility Agassiz, although particularly religious, believed that though man was mobile, species of animals were not, and that they developed where God placed them.Darwin, a sharp observer of other people s foibles, saw Agassiz s work as contemptible rubbish and also compared him to one of the jellyfish Agassiz obsessively researched and chronicled weird, infinitely interesting, capable of inflicting a certain amount of harm, but destined ultimately to fade into insubstantiality Regarding Agassiz s Charleston folly, Darwin sarcastically wrote to his cousin William Darwin Fox, Agassiz lectures in the US in which he has been maintaining the doctrine of several species much, I daresay, to the comfort of the slave holding Southerns Over his academic career, Agassiz earned another unfortunate reputation that of a stingy, domineering, and credit stealing professor who both alienated and smothered the ambitions of legions of students and research assistants Here, Irmscher has exhaustively examined numerous letters and journals the book contains 44 pages of endnotes of former prot g s such as Charles Girard and douard Desor, who worked and studied with Agassiz at the University of Neuch tel in Switzerland, and Henry James Clark and Addison Emery Verrill, who were both assistants to Agassiz at Harvard Agassiz s rancorous yet fascinating episodes with these young men were marked by common themes of professional jealousy, theft of what would now be called intellectual property, and bitter personal attacks.Particularly revealing as well as heartbreaking is the case of Clark, who toiled in penury within Agassiz s shadow for years as an Adjunct professor helping to organize Agassiz s career long ambition, the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology Clark, shortchanged both in credit and in remuneration, was eventually pushed out of his position by the Harvard Corporation after a very public quarrel with Agassiz And in the case of Girard who came to regret following his flawed master Agassiz from Switzerland to America and eventually defected to Washington D.C s Smithsonian, headed by Spencer Fullerton Baird Agassiz could not help but badmouth his former student to Baird, saying that Girard had no judgment, was obstinate as a mule, and needed to be led with a high hand and kept in an entirely subordinate position When it comes to his books, Agassiz s tudes sur les Glaciers 1840 , is outstanding, not only for its scholarship, but also for its exceptionally beautiful, lithographed atlas volume But for all its beauty and scientific importance, the name of Agassiz s friend and fellow glaciologist, Karl Friedrich Schimper, is absent from its pages Even the initial use of the term ice age eitzeit , Agassiz cribbed from Schimper As Irmscher asserts, this was the first prominent instance of the cavalier, unattributed use of other people s ideas that, in the eyes of Agassiz critics, would become a hallmark of his career And in a supreme act of hypocrisy added to what Irmscher terms a similar mix of ruthlessness and naivet , Agassiz, who thought that another, contemporary author, Jean de Charpentier, had pre empted his tudes, wrote of his disappointment that Charpentier hadn t used his Agassiz s observations in order to establish synonymy between your theory and mine Embarrassment was obviously not in Agassiz s lexicon.There is no question that Agassiz s shadow looms large in numerous scientific disciplines But Irmscher s devastating new appraisal pushes Agassiz out of that shadow and into the klieg lights leaving all the hagiographic and illusive imagery behind In the book s epilogue, Irmscher writes, The history of science is unforgiving it remembers those who were right and commits to the dustbin those who were wrong And Agassiz certainly was, dead wrong, about evolution and about race What this groundbreaking book distills is ugly and very disturbing but ultimately, it is the necessary and timely exposure of a great man who in truth really wasn t. Elegant, insightful, compelling From Rebecca Stott s New York Times Book Review During the California earthquake of 1906, the marble statue of Louis Agassiz toppled off the second story of Stanford University s zoology building and plunged headfirst into the ground The great scientist, with his head buried in concrete, his upturned body sticking up into air, became an iconic image of the earthquake Agassiz is often remembered as a fallen man, Christoph Irmscher tells us His rejection of Darwinian evolution and his conviction that America belonged to the whites only are an embarrassment to science A decade ago, an eighth grader at the Agassiz School in Cambridge, Mass., came across a description of Agassiz s racism and suggested the school change its name It did, calling itself after the school s first African American principal, Maria L Baldwin Distinctly undelightful is how Irmscher describes Agassiz in this evocative new biography He confesses that he struggled to reconcile the prejudices, the authoritarianism and the brilliance of his subject, asking, Can we love Agassiz It is a strange and complex question Do we need to love Agassiz we might reply But the question, though odd, is a particular one in science biography Agassiz and his peers stand in the shadow of Darwin s extraordinarily liberal, kindly, generous good nature Alongside Darwin, some of these men look selfish, mean minded and bigoted They are difficult to like.But irreconcilable contradictions make for interesting biographies And Irmscher doesn t allow the undelightful aspects to disappear in the service of myth making Instead, he draws out the complexities of his subject and helps us to see them as part of the fabric of 19th century science There s no airbrushing in Louis Agassiz Creator of American Science The subtitle of the book is perhaps a touch overstated, however Scientific discoveries of that era, as we now know, weren t made by individuals but by communities, networks, institutions and changing attitudes.Nonetheless, there is no arguing with the claim that Agassiz, a Swiss immigrant, was pivotal to the making of American science He was one of the first, Irmscher writes, to establish science as a collective enterprise He was extraordinarily prolific and influential in many fields, including paleontology, zoology, geology and glaciology He pioneered field research and was among the first to propose that the Earth had endured an ice age A charismatic teacher whose students in natural history went on to become the teachers and scientists of the next generation, he was also an obsessive collector, enlisting the American public in a vast campaign to send him natural history specimens so he could build a remarkable museum of comparative anatomy.The range of Agassiz s interests and expertise seems remarkable to a modern reader, given the narrow specialties of contemporary scientific practice, but in many ways, it was this restless curiosity that made him a transitional figure He may have forged the path for research as a profession ensconced in universities endowed with posts and chairs, but he also belonged to the older age of the polymathic natural philosopher.Unlike Darwin, Agassiz did not leave thousands of letters and journals and health records with which biographers have been able to piece together the intricate interior life of their subject He was too busy At the same time, however, he was keen to promote himself in particular ways, revealing a degree of control over his image that Irmscher describes as self mythologizing The dominant image he sought to promote was of a man who never stopped working, who had prodigious energy but who was also prone to bouts of nervous exhaustion from overwork.In the absence of personal records, Irmscher draws instead on other sources, including accounts by students who depict Agassiz as an authoritarian teacher who expected his pupils to toe his line When they took their own directions, as some famously did, or complained that Agassiz took credit for their work, their careers floundered The diary entries of young men struggling to make a career for themselves in an apparently meritocratic environment but one, in actuality, tightly controlled and hierarchical are fascinating and moving.Then there is the Agassiz who believed in absolute white superiority He was not the only 19th century American with such views, of course, but his confidence in the scientific basis of his beliefs shored up the racist attitudes of the time He was obsessed with miscegenation, which Irmscher suggests insightfully may have been driven by his need to align himself, as an immigrant, as firmly as he could with other whites of European descent in America, the need to construct a genealogy for himself that would make the New World seem rather old indeed Finally Agassiz is also remembered as a thorn in the side of Darwin and his followers He is often blamed for the fact that evolutionary theory took such a long time to be accepted in the United States Irmscher, however, claims that in effect it was Agassiz s surprisingly emotional, scattershot opposition to developmentalism that prompted influential scientists, who might otherwise have done some fence sitting, to promote Darwinism Darwin watched as always ruefully from the sidelines How very singular it is, he wrote in a letter at the time, that so eminently clever a man, with such immense knowledge on many branches of Natural History, should write such wonderful stuff bosh as he does Irmscher is a richly descriptive writer with an eye for detail, the complexities and contradictions of character, and the workings of institutional and familial power structures He attends closely to the people in Agassiz s circle and teases out how his wives and students in particular adapted to or rejected his maddening idiosyncrasies Elizabeth Agassiz, his second wife and a naturalist, author, illustrator and popularizer of science shines in this account She was not just an assistant and helpmeet, but also an increasingly independent and skeptical presence in his life.Irmscher may have struggled to reconcile the distinctly undelightful aspects of Agassiz s character with his subject s manifest achievements, but to his credit, he aims his spotlight straight at these very problems, revealing their effects not only on Agassiz s immediate family and students but on the evolution of American science This is a book not just about a man of science but also about a scientific culture in the making warts and all Rebecca Stott is the author of Darwin s Ghosts The Secret History of Evolution. Louis Agassiz was instrumental in establishing a tradition of reading nature, not books , that continues, in a way, today It is vital that new and established scientists make their own observations rather than rely just on the observations of others.The legacy of Louis Agassiz is in the fact that he promoted this view to professionals and amateur naturalists alike, and that he established one of the first field schools of natural history in the USA why didn t the author include on this Agassiz was a great promoter of natural history, though he ended up on the wrong side of just about every major scientific argument of his day and todayand is thus largely forgotten and overlooked.OK, about this book.Frankly, I am happy to be done with it Irmscher tackled an interesting topic and grew it larger than it needed to be It s obvious that he loved learning and then telling Agassiz s storyso much so that I really had to work to tease Agassiz s story out of this widely meandering narrative.Irmischer takes long, distracting detours into the lives and exploits of many of Agassiz s mentors, family, peers, adversaries, and students This book could easily have been titled something like Louis Agassiz Creator of American Science, and insights and reflections on everyone he knew In other words, Irmscher wedged what could have been a completely satisfying 150 200 page biography into 350 pages.I do not doubt that Agassiz is much like Irmscher describes him driven, a good observer, someone who loves the spotlight, a creationist, a racist, and a controlling overlord of his domains and of all the people in it and of all the work they did there.Aside from the development of the Ice Age theory, what was Louis Agassiz s greatest contribution to American science I d have to say it was his son, Alexanderwho eventually broke with just about every scientific and social stance taken by Louis.In summary, I found the writing to be overdone, tough to slide through, and IMO too distracting as I worked to follow Louis Agassiz s story I will probably add this title to my library rather than recycling it, but I can t really imagine who I would recommend it to.Sadly, my experience with it resulted in only a couple of stars. Very well written biography Even with this sympathetic treatment by Irmscher, it wasn t easy to like Aggasiz The interplay between Agassiz and contemporary luminaries, including Asa Gray, Thoreau, etc is fascinating And, then, of course, there is Darwin. .READ DOWNLOAD ♞ Louis Agassiz ♩ Charismatic And Controversial, Louis Agassiz Is Our Least Known Revolutionary 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 Agassiz 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 But There S A Dark Side To The Story Irmscher Adds Unflinching Evidence Of Agassiz S Racist Impulses And Shows How Avidly Americans Looked To Men Of Science To Mediate Race Policy The Book 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 Agassiz S Stubborn Resistance To EvolutionA Fascinating Life Story, Both Inspiring And Cautionary, For Anyone Interested In The History Of American Ideas Biography of Louis Agassiz I knew almost nothing about him, so I learned quite a lot about him, about his nearly rock star status and influence in science in the 19th century, his key role in change the nature of science education, his stature at Harvard and role in the development of science instruction and research there Also about his not great treatment of his first wife, and the very significant role played by his second wife, Elizabeth, who helped create a market for popular science writing for interested non scientists Agassiz was also somewhat relentlessly ambitious and self serving and aggrandizing, and seems to have been a frequently awful boss to his students and interns And he held firm in two areas where history proved him dreadfully wrongheaded a lifetime rivalry with Darwin and a fervent denial in theories of evolution, and misguided views about the significance of racial variations, though perhaps not far out of line with much of the thinking of his day.My reservations about the book had to do with the writing style I have to admit I was put off by the effort to make the book I guess feel informal and modern by using colloquial and very recent terminology and expressions Not that I need things to be dry and academic, but I found it off putting I also struggled somewhat with the organization of the book He takes on themes, like Darwin, race and his wife, in separate chapters, in a way that to me took a way from a sense of chronology and a rounded life But I learned a lot This is a biography of the absolute now its methods feel incredibly current, from the way is seeks to read the glacial scratches that Agassiz identifies, to the textual exegesis is gives to Agassiz s comments on race, interpreting them not only as themselves but also as a part of a discourse of white supremacy it s like the grad school answer to claims you had to unerstand the times, and it s even harsher for that , or the way it very symapthetically, and a little playfully, reads Elizabeth s Agassiz s travel journals of the trip to Galapagos This is a very text rich, text interested biography.Which, as much as I admired it, I found a little exhausting Irmscher kept crowding himself and his insights between me and his subject It might be different if this was my fourth biography of Agassiz, but it s not, it s my first I saw a lot of the writer s insight and process, and was impressed, but feel like I didn t get a handle on the man at the center in any holistic way.I admire this book, but don t quite love it. Solid scientific and social biography of the 19th century Swiss founder of the professionalization of American science Irmscher is committed to showing his subject, warts and all from the traits a 21st century reader would regard as progressive his second wife s work in science writing, promotion of education, abolitionism to the less acceptable his treatment of his first wife, 19th century racial hierarchy, opposition to Darwin , all within the context of his carefully built network of patronage and New England high society connections.