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 here. Darwin’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.