Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday to You, and You...and You?

Guess who was born 200 years ago today, February 12, 1809? If you said "Abraham Lincoln," you're right! Then again, if you said "Charles Darwin," you're also right. These two great men were born on exactly the same day: one in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky and the other on an English country estate. [For those of you for whom such things matter, that date makes them Aquarians.]

Both are famous, influential change-makers with long-lasting reputations. Both are known for their clear and insightful thinking and writing. Both lost their mother in early childhood, and each lost a beloved child. Besides a common date of birth, they share many traits and experiences. Yet we almost never think of them side-by-side and rarely if ever discuss the Civil War in the same conversation as evolution. A new book from Adam Gopnik (author of Paris to the Moon and Through the Children's Gate), Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life, does just that. As Gopnik says, "the point is that when we do come across those who write well and see clearly, we're right to make them heroes." One reviewer described this book as having 'succulent prose and incisive reasoning." How can you resist?

If you want to read more about either man, we've got books in spades. Some of the Darwin offerings include The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution (David Quammen), Darwin's Origin of Species: A Biography (Janet Browne), and, of course, The Origin of Species itself (Charles Darwin). Our Lincoln shelves are groaning with books, including Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer (Fred Kaplan), A. Lincoln: A Biography (Ronald C. White, Jr.), Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon (Kunhardt, et al), Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (James M. McPherson), and, of course, Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals.

And if today also happens to be your birthday? Wow, are you in great company -- and happy birthday to you too!

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