Adam Gopnik’s Angels and Ages novel searches for the men behind the icons of emancipation and evolution. Coincidently born on the same day in 1809 and separated by an ocean, Lincoln and Darwin coauthore our sense of history and our understanding of man’s place in the world. Gopnik’s novel reveals these two men as the really were: family men and social climbers, grieving parents yet brillian scholars. “Above all we see them as thinkers and writers, making and witnessin the great changes in thought that mark truly modern times” (Gopnik, 18). Angel and Ages purpose is finding the parallels of the cultural impact between th men.
Gopnik’s argument is convincing; i is not what they have in common with each other that matters; it is what the have in common with us. Tha commonality lies in the modern way of speaking (plainly) and thinkin (scientific and liberal in the broad sense). Gopnik’s efforts in Angels and Ages provides a admirable attempt to breathe new life into settled history and makes some interestin connections between Lincoln and Darwin and how these men continue to impac modern society.
Angels and Ages a collection of short topical research essays he had published as a staf writer for the New Yorker, describe Lincoln and Darwin as two pillars of society we live in, one representin liberal democracy, the other the human sciences. Lincoln grew up in a rhetorical culture, wher the ability to speak in public, at length, was central to socia ambitions. In contrast, Darwin grew u in a culture of observation, and lived in a society of seeing. Despite bein born on the same day to such different lives (Darwin, born into comfort an money, while Lincoln, born to dirt poor farmers in the Kentucky woods) the have become improbable public figures and icons. Unfortunately, due to the compression o history their reputations have been reduced to single words- “Evolution” an “Emancipation”. Throughout his novel Gopnik uses a persuasive writing style stressing that although Darwin an Lincoln did not make the modern world- they were greatly influential i creating it.
This short but substantia book focuses on the lives and work of Lincoln and Darwin and thei similarities, especially their eloquence and tremendous influence on th thinkers of their time and ours.
Gopnik’s research is sectioned into short biographies the first half of the novel writing exclusively about Lincoln, the latter hal about Darwin. While by no means complete biography of either Lincoln or Darwin, Angels and Ages does capture the most important essence of bot men, and provides its readers with much to ponder. He is able to make compelling comparison regarding these men throughout the novel, providing persuasive arguments regardin his main theme: Darwin and Lincoln’s impact on modern society. Gopnik argue Darwin and Lincoln were nearsighted visionaries, they knew how to inspire, an also knew how to argue first. They were able to particularize everything, an their general visions rise from the details; their big ideas from smal sightings.
For Lincoln, he was backwoods lawyers who became one of the great American writers, using th narrow language of the law to arrive at a voice of liberalism still resonan and convincing today. To Charles Darwin a craftsmen of enormous resource and quiet mischief, in which his publicatio of On the Origin of Species of 1859, marke the real beginnings of his evolutionary thought and is a monument in th history of the modern mind. The Origin is not only a statement of thesis, it is a book of answers to questions that no one had yet asked. Gopnik, providing the historical evidence an background into the biggest achievements of both men, is able to effectivel argue Darwin’s theory of evolution deserves the respect we give to any winnin argument, the same respect we give to the argument of the Gettysburg Address.
Gopnik casts fres and honest light on Lincoln and Darwin, whose accomplishments are distorted b years of excessive comment and quotation. We miss the significance of their achievement Gopnik writes, if we focus on only emancipation and evolution. Each man’ larger legacy, in fact, is the distinctly modern means in which he delivere his argument. It was Darwin’s inductiv eloquence that allowed science to rewrite the history of life, and it wa Lincoln’s rational passion that ended the long horror of slavery.
Throughout Angels and Ages, Gopnik instills to his readers the importance Lincol and Darwin have had in the creation of modern society, Lincoln showing tha democracy can survive the use of force to preserve it; Darwin showing tha scientific reasoning can explain not only the life of matter but the matter o life- it can come up with a plausible theory of the history of life on thi planet. Angels and Ages is filled with memorable contrasts and comparison like these that illustrate how these two lives were remarkable in the formin of outlooks, attitudes and debates today.
I was instantly drawn to read Angels and Ages for this book review assignment as I was curious t find what comparisons Lincoln and Darwin had with one another, other than thei shared birthday. I also thought the content of this book would correspond t the material being taught in this course, as this novel puts a large emphasi on Lincoln’s background as a lawyer, and how this greatly influenced his rational and reasoning during the Civil War. thoroughly enjoyed this novel as Gopnik successfully draws vividl characterized personal and intellectual portraits of each man, producing a engaging novel in celebration of Darwin and Lincoln’s lives and their continua impact on society. Give the extensive biographical research dedicated to both men, the ideal reader fo this novel would be someone taking an 19th Century History course or someone who is genuinely interested in Lincoln and/or Darwin.
I would recommend this book to others as I hav obtained newfound knowledge in the lives of both men, in particular Lincoln’ humble beginnings in Kentucky, and Charles Darwin’s revolutionary science tha proposed “normal” science, things to do. A weakness I did find in Gopnik’s writing style is the disjointedness t the pieces, with the first half of the book exclusively dedicated to Lincoln and the second portion to Darwin, as I believe the reader would appreciate mor fluidity between the two, especially when the novel’s main purpose is comparin the two.
However, Gopnik’s point is no lost, and it is an important one at that. “Lincoln gave us modern democracy- th idea that the many through majority rule could and should control the country. Darwin gave us modern liberal thought- the idea that observation, rationa thought, and patient observation are a surer route to truth than dogmati belief” (Gopnik, 168). Overall, Gopnik effectively reveals the complexity o these men, making his points with a grace and intelligence that remind us, 20 years on, how much the two men continue to shape our thinking and our discourse.