Robert Ingersoll was fat. The Great Agnostic, as he was known in his day, was so portly that critics sighed over the “spectacular auto da fé” he would have made if set alight for heresy—as he surely would have been in an earlier era.
Speaking to sold-out crowds around the nation at the turn of the 19th century, Ingersoll argued against belief in God, poked fun at religious authority, and gently introduced a skeptical American public to the idea that humans might be related to apes. Along the way, the jurist and Republican party kingmaker revived the reputation of another great doubter, Thomas Paine, restoring him to his rightful place in the Founders’ pantheon.
Reason Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward reviews Susan Jacoby's new biography, which attempts to restore Ingresoll to his rightful seat in the freethought pantheon.