February 4, 2009

February 12, 1809: Twin Birthdays (a few books)

February 12 is the 200th anniversary of both Lincoln’s and Darwin’s birthday.  There are even at least two comparative biographies on the market now:  Adam Gopnik’s Angels and Ages and David Contosta’s Rebel Giants.  And there are flood of good and bad Lincoln and Darwin books flooding the market (the oddest of which I have seen mentioned to date is Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book.)

Lincoln and Darwin share more than a few parallels, but for me, both are giants of 19th century writing.  And for both of them, I think their strongest work came early on:  in Darwin’s case, The Voyage of a the Beagle – an amazing travelogue and coming of age story.  It is available in numerous editions, here is a new hardcover (that promises to include the original illustrations) and here is a link to many online editions.  See also the illustrations hereDarwin’s final popular work (on earthworms) is also excellent and well worth reading.  A well-received book about Darwin’s writing style and influence is the Norton Critical Edition.

For me, the highlight of Lincoln’s work are his debates with Douglas Stevens – again there are numerous versions available, but here is a new critically edited volume.  Close behind is Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union – here is a recreation of it by Sam Waterston (and here is the text).  A well-received book about Lincoln’s speaking style is Gary Will’s Lincoln at Gettysburg.

If you want a fuller selection of Darwin, I can recommend an omnibus edition published by Norton.  If you want a fuller selection of Lincoln, there is an excellent set published by Library of America.

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