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Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 27, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307270785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307270788
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,217,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Julie Neal VINE VOICE on February 5, 2009
Format: 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.
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By Hande Z on February 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born 12 February 1809. That was the most direct coincidence of the two lives; that they became great and famous men was secondary. The coincidence of their birthdays somehow inspired two books each written as a short, dual-biography of the two men. The first (published in 2008) was David Contosta's "Rebel Giants", subtitled, "The Revolutionary Lives of Abraham Lincoln & Charles Darwin". The second (published in 2009) was Adam Gopnik's "Angels and Ages". Gopnik's book is short (204 pages) and considering that it covered two men (with Darwin getting more page space) it really was a very short biographical work. However, since this is the 200th anniversary of their birth, curiosity might tempt many to read a little about Lincoln and Darwin. "Angels and Ages" will satisfy most people who have little or no knowledge about these men. Like "Rebel Giants" the reader will not read much about direct comparisons between the two lives, as indeed, both led in different directions on two different continents. There is a third book, "Darwin's Sacred Causes" written by two well known Darwin biographers Adrian Desmond & James Moore) which made a more scholarly attempt to show how the idea and practice of slavery (as opposed to an account comparing the lives of Darwin and Lincoln ) had a great humanitarian influence on Darwin's thoughts and attitude.

On the whole, while "Angels and Ages" is a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening book, one might feel that the author was rushing, and there were moments when one might need to read over carefully because too many ideas were introduced and when that happens in a short book, the inevitable result is that the connections linking one idea to the next may sometimes be faulty or absent.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The marriage between Darwin and Lincoln which Gopnik makes the uniting principle of this book doesn't work. The essays would have been better off presented separately--say, in a magazine like The New Yorker, which, as it happens, is how they started life. That both men were born on the same day of the same year, and that both were so influential (Darwin particularly so) in their time and after, is not sufficient to overcome the artificiality of so joining them (and only them).

This short book is well worth reading (if you missed it in magazine form) for the truly fascinating and poignant first essay on Darwin--written in such a heartfelt and observant way. (The essays on Lincoln seem less engaging to me--somehow the book feel more devoted to Darwin, and so, a little unbalanced.) Gopnik's explorations of how Darwin and how Lincoln came to view religion and death over the course of their lives--differently from each other--were the most compelling aspect of the book, and seemed the most revealing about the emerging modern world.

A curious little book--even if the Darwin/Lincoln aspect fails to achieve its purpose, still full of insight.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a five-chapter book. The first four chapters alternate between Mr. Gopnik's takes on Messrs Lincoln and Darwin. These are very interesting chapters. They are by no means definitive biographies of either man, but that's not what I wanted. I didn't want to read about Ann Rutledge or the different finches of the Galapagos. There are many books that can do that quite well. What this book does is to provide very short, unique insights into both men, how they transcended their time: philosophically and stylistically. Going into the fifth chapter, this was a five-star book. In the last chapter, Mr. Gopnik felt obliged to tie everything up in a coherent package (which is reasonable), but became mired in philosophical quicksand. The chapter kept going on and on, without his saying anything (at least to me). So, my advice would be: read Chapters 1 to 4, and skip Chapter 5.
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