Joined by Birth
Two centuries ago, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. The bicentennial has prompted a parade of books, exhibitions, and symposia—not to mention commemorative stamps and coins. In his book Angels and Ages (Knopf), Adam Gopnik tackles these twin pillars of modern culture.
Why did you choose to focus on Darwin and Lincoln as writers?
I’ve been reading Darwin for a long time for pleasure, for his mastery of narrative. Similarly, I’d always been haunted by Lincoln’s cadences and words—“government of the people by the people,” “malice toward none, charity for all”—those words are emblazoned onto the American consciousness.
So style drew you to them?
Both men were masters of observation and argument, rising from a legal tradition in Lincoln’s case, from a tradition of scientific naturalism in Darwin’s. One element of 19th-century modernity was the shift from a rhetoric of inspiration and exhortation to one of observation and argument—toward the poetry of the prosaic. For me that is very profound. Lincoln and Darwin also provided us with models of conciliation, of the liberalism that’s essential to building societies of peace, prosperity, and tolerance.
In Looking for Lincoln (Knopf), the Kunhardt family of Lincoln scholars combed through old articles, journals, and scrapbooks to trace how a mortal man evolved into an immortal legend. $50
At the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., “Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life” features campaign artifacts, such as this 1860 banner, and many of Lincoln’s personal effects, including his famous top hat. Through January 2011
A model for Daniel Chester French’s Lincoln Memorial and an 1865 letter from Abe to his wife are in the New-York Historical Society’s ”Lincoln and New York,” which explores the city’s major role in Lincoln’s career. October 2 to March 21, 2010
The Library of America’s three-volume set, The Lincoln Bicentennial Collection, has most of the great man’s speeches and letters, plus writers like Tolstoy, Melville, and Emerson on his legacy. $100
This year also marks the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, which has been reissued by Penguin with a cover illustration, Human Skull in Space, by Damien Hirst. $40
In Darwin’s Armada, Iain McCalman recounts the adventures of naturalists Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley, and Alfred Wallace, and how they became staunch supporters of Darwin’s theory. Comes out August 17, $30
The Yale Center for British Art in New Haven explores links between Darwin and the visual arts, from scientific illustrations to painters he influenced, in “Endless Forms.” Through May 3
Darwin’s Camera, by Phillip Prodger, tells the story of Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, the first scientific book illustrated with photographs. Comes out June 25, $40