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Customer Review

43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two giants become human, February 5, 2009
This review is from: Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life (Hardcover)
This interesting, scholarly book looks at the parallel lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, both born on the same February day in 1809. It's a fascinating glimpse at what life was like for these two men, and how they both changed history. After their deaths, a new liberal voice emerges: "the change from soul to mind as the engine of existence, and then from angels to ages as the overseers of life."

What makes Angels and Ages so compelling, for me, is the way these two men are made human. I now can see the flesh-and-blood husbands, fathers, sons and working men behind the icons.

A portrait of Lincoln as a shrewd, clear-eyed politician emerges. Famously born in a Kentucky log cabin, Lincoln wrote that his father Thomas wrote his own name "bunglingly." After his marriage to Mary Todd, Lincoln stands on his front porch, "a tall man with enough money to build a big house and be proud of it." Spoiling his kids, Lincoln "held their hands as they danced him down the street."

In Darwin, a timid doting father peeks out from these pages, a person who loved to look at things and wrestle with his kids. He delayed a full 21 years before publishing "his great idea, the idea of evolution by natural selection. He was afraid of being attacked by the powerful and the bigoted." Darwin was also haunted by the fact that his findings would "end any intellectually credible idea of divine creation," and his beloved wife Emma used religion for comfort after the death of their favorite child, 10-year-old Anna.

Author Adam Gopnik is fond of using poetic turns of phrase and long sentences. For example, he writes this about reading Darwin's On the Origin of the Species: "It's a Victorian hallucinogen, where the whole world suddenly comes alive and begins moving, so that the likeness between seagulls and sandpipers on the beach where you are reading suddenly becomes spookily animated, part of a single restless whole, with the birds' giant lizard ancestors looming like ghosts above them." It's evocative, but you might need to slow down your reading to catch all his meaning.

Here's the chapter list:

Introduction: Angels and Ages
1. Lincoln's Mind
2. Darwin's Eye
3. Lincoln in History
4. Darwin in Time
Conclusion: Ages and Angels
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 8, 2009 6:57:28 PM PST
Darwin - one of my favorite historical characters...actually collect biographies on him and I somehow overlooked this one. Thank you for doing the review and doing it so well. This one will go on my wish list.
don
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