Skip to Main Content
Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Summer Reading 2017

Dear Members of the Class of 2021,

A central feature of Skidmore's First-Year Experience is the summer reading program, the purpose of which is twofold.  First, we want to highlight the fact that education is not confined to the classroom or the academic calendar; on the contrary, the process of learning is ongoing, and we hope you will begin thinking (and reading) like a college student before you even get to campus.  Second, we want to provide the entire first-year class, as well as the broader campus community, with a common experience centered on a challenging topic.  The summer reading helps us accomplish these goals.

For the Class of 2021, the FYE has chosen Randall Fuller’s The Book That Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation.  Professor Fuller is an award-winning scholar of nineteenth-century American culture and Chapman Professor of English at the University of Tulsa.  In addition to his celebrated books, he has written for the New York Times and the Wall St. Journal; he is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Book That Changed America focuses on a small group of friends—including transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as well as philosopher Bronson Alcott and Harvard botanist Asa Gray—and their lifelong debates about Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  All of these individuals were committed abolitionists, and they were especially interested in the implications of Darwin’s ideas for the relationships between the races.  This book, then, is about both the history of an idea and the rewards of shared reading and sustained intellectual engagement.

I am delighted to say that Professor Fuller will address the Class of 2021 in a special event sponsored by the FYE on Monday, September 11th.  There will also be ample opportunity for students and faculty to discuss the book and the issues it raises in their seminar groups.    

All first-year students are expected to read and contemplate this book in its entirety prior to their arrival on campus.  While no single book will sufficiently prepare you for the breadth of academic work you will encounter at Skidmore, we believe that this initial reading offers a starting point.   Enjoy the book, enjoy the summer, and come to campus prepared and excited to begin your undergraduate journey.   We look forward to welcoming you.


Ronald P. Seyb 
Associate Dean for Student Academic Affairs