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By Joshua Kim on 06-10-12
Connecting Darwin and Lincoln
Darwin and LIncoln were both born on February 12, 1809. Gopnik takes this historical coincidence as a starting place to explore the lives and ideas of the two men who did more to shape modern society then perhaps any other pair, with one giving us the foundations for representative democracy supported by military power and the other providing a framework to understand the origins of and development of species. We can be Darwinist because we are the beneficiaries of the fruits of a wealthy liberal democracy, one that Lincoln cemented with his refusal to let the American experiment disintegrate through secession.
Gopnik is an essayist, not a historian, which if well and good for a short and personal book where the lives and ideas of the Great Men are explored in the context of contemporary ideas and struggles. Gopnik's thesis is that what ties Lincoln and Darwin together is their power over language, Lincoln in his speeches and Darwin in his books. This allows Gopnik to narrow his focus and play to his own strengths as a crafter of phrases.
If you read Angels and Ages expecting a biography of Darwin or LIncoln or a social history of their times you will be disappointed. However, if you approach the book as a long thought piece on the literary, scientific and cultural legacy of Lincoln and Darwin then you will spend a few hours delighting in words well strung together recounting some of the the phrases that define (and undergird) our modern world.
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