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On February 12, 1809, two men were born an ocean apart: Abraham Lincoln in a one-room Kentucky log cabin; Charles Darwin on an English country estate. Each would see his life’s work inspire a stark change in mankind’s understanding of itself. In this bicentennial twin portrait, Adam Gopnik shows how these two giants, who never met, altered the way we think about death and time—about the very nature of earthly existence.
Each man had stirred a moral cataclysm. With Lincoln, the great tide of blood he released to save the Union left Americans reeling from violence that seemed senseless. Meanwhile, Darwin’s revelations of evolution and deep time, contradicting biblical history, had revoked the promise of eternal life and final judgment. But each man would also use his singular genius for words to offer refuge from the unbearable thought of a life without meaning. Together, through their writings, Lincoln and Darwin would become midwives to a new kind of hope and faith that sustains us to this day. Filled with little-known stories and unfamiliar characters, Angels and Ages reveals these men, whom we think we know, in a new, shared light, a light that also makes plain the unacknowledged origins of our modern vision and liberal values.