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Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  58 ratings  ·  15 reviews
In Banquet at Delmonico’s, Barry Werth, the acclaimed author of The Scarlet Professor, draws readers inside the circle of philosophers, scientists, politicians, businessmen, clergymen, and scholars who brought Charles Darwin’s controversial ideas to America in the crucial years after the Civil War.

The United States in the 1870s and ’80s was deep in turmoil–a brash young na
Hardcover, 362 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Random House (first published December 24th 2008)
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Apr 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The book covers a time in American history from 1871 to 1872. It culminates with the breakfast at DelMonico's where Herbert Spencer comes to America to speak to a select group of famous people. I wouldn't exactly defend the subtitle, The Triumph of Evolution in America, since I wouldn't exactly call it a triumph. There was still dissent, just like we have today unfortunately. It's more the triumph of Spencer. He seemed to rise ahead of Darwin as the champion of the theory of evolution as it appl ...more
Bill Sleeman
Apr 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
Interesting approach to compare and contrast the paths of a dozen or so different figures and how they all intersected with Herbert Spencer (and – but not fully – with Darwin). Well written and engaging.
Julie Christine
Jan 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Julie Christine by: NY Times
A simple review would state "This rich narrative is about the development of social Darwinism in post-Civil War polite society." But there ain't nothin' simple about this book! It is complex roller coaster ride through American society facing tremendous upheaval and rapid industrialization in the generation following Reconstruction.

And in light of current political and economic conditions and the ongoing debate of evolution vs. religion, this social history is incredibly relevant- the political
Sara Van Dyck
Apr 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
I find Werth’s title somewhat ironic, as he quotes at length some of the speeches given at the event. The speakers proclaimed the importance of “evolution” as a scientific principle – but what brand of evolution? Spencer’s follower John Fiske asserted that the events of this world “do not exist blindly…but that all are connected together as the orderly manifestations of a divine Power.” The best-received speech, by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, grounded science on religion: “…There is a record in ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Apr 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: may-june-2009

The New York Times Book Review noted that "[t]rying to write intellectual history is like trying to nail jelly to a wall," but most critics concluded, with some reservations, that Werth has succeeded in this effort. Reviewers praised Banquet at Delmonico's for its taut storytelling and its bright evocation of the famous Americans who debated Darwinism. However, both the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post lamented Werth's reluctance to take a step back from his story. The New York

Oct 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: research
There is a lot of merit to this book--fascinating characters, ideas, events--but I found the structure a bit difficult to follow. The chronological order makes sense, but there were so many different people involved and events going on, the chronological structure didn't pull the pieces together for me very well. It felt like the book lacked a center--the most central piece was the Youmans-Spencer relationship, but some of the other fascinating episodes (The Beecher affair mostly) felt like tang ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Using Herbert Spencer's 1882 New York lecture as a framing device, Werth gives us a snapshot of the dazzling intersection of money, science and society in the Gilded Age, with nicely done vignettes of the tycoons, intellectuals and scandalous glitterati: Spencer, Edward Youmans, John Fiske, Louis Agassiz, Henry Ward Beecher, Victoria Woodhull, Carl Schurz, William Graham Sumner, William Evarts and Andrew Carnegie.
Jan 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
This history of social Darwinism in America has many parallels in our time. In its original incarnation, social Darwinism was eclipsed by pragmatism, and I hope that's what we're experiencing now in our political life. ...more
Donald Powell
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
The last chapter, the Banquet, was a wonderful end to a great book. The author did a superb job of weaving the evolution theme in and through the gilded age of American history. The book has plenty of depth and weight in addition to the factual rendition of this brief historical period. Thrilled I "stumbled" onto this book.
Jim Jones
May 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Engrossing look at the confluence of religion, science, and Capitalism in late 19th Cent. America to justify racism and weslth in the hands of a few. Fascinating look at the movers and shakers of the time: Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Stowe, etc.
Aug 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: biographies
Great history and information USA 1870's & 1880's. ...more
Mar 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
A very entertaining view of the post civil war years and the battle over and expansion of evolution theory and scientific reason. I recommend it highly.
Jan 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, science, religion
Truly intriguing story about the rise of social darwinism in the United States and to a degree in England. Worthwhile reading for an understanding of the social context of scientific acceptance.
Craig Bolton
"Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America by Barry Werth (2009)"
Jul 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Henry Beecher and Victoria Woodhull, again
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Jul 23, 2011
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