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Gopnik, Adam. Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

This year marked the bicentennial of Darwin and Lincoln's birthdays (they were born in the same year, a coincidence upon which Adam Gopnik constructs an impressive edifice that is a gem of a book), and in celebration of these two figures--one a naturalist, the other a president--Gopnik offers a nuanced, persuasive, wonderfully well-read meditation on the impact on us of their actions and their ideas.

Gopnik has been a staff writer for The New Yorker for the past 23 years, and he succeeds quite well in keeping the tone of his book at about the level of an essay in that magazine (too well, really; I could have done with a more expansive bibliography, since I recognized Gopnik adapting material from more writers than he cited explicitly). Part of his skill is that he's read the right books, not only by and about Darwin and Lincoln but about literature and history in general. He has a genius for summing things up in a witty turn of phrase that gets right to the heart of the matter. It's a brief book, and I shall try to honor that by keeping this review short as well. I can only say that I'd recommend it to any one interested in either man, since Gopnik succeeds in explicating some bit of the meaning of life out of the life of each.