Angels and Ages (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Most readers of Angels and Ages will recognize Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln as two of the great men of the nineteenth century, a century that produced many great men. Darwin posited a theory of evolution. Lincoln, his contemporary, served as president of the United States during the Civil War and in 1862 issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Few readers, however, would have thought to compare these two men. Adam Gopnik does, however, with significant results. The comparison begins with the fact that both were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. This observation might have seemed to be a gimmick if made by another writer, but it does not in Gopnik’s hands.
Darwin grew up in the beautiful county of Shropshire in western England. He was a conventional-appearing man from a well-to-do and intellectually prominent family; his grandfathers were the biologist and poet Erasmus Darwin and the potter and liberal advocate Josiah Wedgewood. Gopnik stresses that, besides becoming well-read in biology, geology, and poetry, Darwin’s peculiar strength was to look at thingsespecially living thingswith great intensity and sensitivity. He compares Darwin’s powers of close observation to those of John Ruskin in The Stones of Venice (1851-1853).
In addition to Darwin’s powers of observation, Gopnik argues, the biologist had an ability that many good observers lack: He was able to think productively about what he saw. He...
(The entire section is 1651 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Booklist 105, no. 8 (December 15, 2008): 4.
Kirkus Reviews 76, no. 23 (December 1, 2008): 1241.
Library Journal 134, no. 1 (January 1, 2009): 99.
New Scientist 201, no. 2694 (February 7, 2009): 49.
The New York Times Book Review, February 1, 2009, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly 255, no. 46 (November 17, 2008): 54-55.
Wired 17, no. 1 (January, 2009): 64.
(The entire section is 31 words.)