From Publishers Weekly
In the year of Darwins and Lincolns bicentennial, New Yorker
contributor Gopnik (Through the Childrens Gate
) cant resist the temptation to find parallels of cultural impact between the men, born on the same day in 1809, seeing them as twin exemplars of modernity. Gopnik notes that it is not what they have in common with each other that matters; it is what they have in common with us.
And that commonality lies in the modern way of speaking (plainly) and thinking (scientific and liberal in the broad sense). But the comparison of the two men feels like a stretch, and Gopniks notion that the very idea of democracy was precarious until Lincoln freed the slaves isnt wholly convincing. In potted biographies of the two, Gopnik emphasizes the influence of Lincoln the lawyer on Lincoln the politician, and Darwins unusual abilities as a writer of science. Most successfully, Gopnik underscores the importance of eloquence in spreading new ideas, and his notion that Lincoln and Darwin exemplify the modern predicament—that humans must live in the space between what we know and what we feel—is resonant and worth thinking about. (Jan. 30)
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Although Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln never met, Adam Gopnik forever links them in this collection of essays (some of the material first appeared in the New Yorker
) that emphasizes the importance of two great men and reevaluates the role of 19th-century thinking in the modern world. Gopnik's magazine work and essays have given him a well-deserved reputation as an astute observer and chronicler of modern life, and critics generally view Gopnik's efforts in Angels and Ages
as an admirable attempt to breathe new life into some dogmatic ideas. Other reviewers, however, note a familiarity and disjointedness to the pieces and wonder about the tenuous connection between Lincoln and Darwin. The book is worth reading, though, for the author's unquestioned skill as a craftsman and the light he sheds on what has become, for many, settled history.Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC