In this captivating double life, Adam Gopnik searches for the men behind the icons of emancipation and evolution. Born by cosmic coincidence on the same day in 1809 and separated by an ocean, Lincoln and Darwin coauthored our sense of history and our understanding of man’s place in the world. Here Gopnik reveals these two men as they really were: family men and social climbers, ambitious manipulators and courageous adventurers, grieving parents and brilliant scholars. Above all we see them as thinkers and writers, making and witnessing the great changes in thought that mark truly modern times.
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. ~ Publisher Weekly
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