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ANGELS AND AGES

A SHORT BOOK ABOUT DARWIN, LINCOLN, AND MODERN LIFE

Despite indulging in such bombastic statements as, “all their angels are ages, and the ages held out a distant halo of...

The coincidence of a birthday shared by two titans of modern history yields an absorbing joint appreciation of the politics of emancipation, evolutionary science and their respective contributions to the world we know now.

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same winter day in 1809. New Yorker contributor Gopnik (Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York, 2006, etc.) seizes that day to muse on the meaning of their lives and ours. Reworked from a pair of previously published essays, his pensive exegesis describes how humankind’s worldview was permanently altered by an iconic American’s upward mobility and a well-born Briton’s discerning and skeptical eye. By 1838, Darwin had come to his understanding of natural selection, and Lincoln had delivered his crucial Lyceum lecture. The sensitive observer and the astute lawyer each suffered the loss of a beloved child, a blow no less devastating for being a common one in the 19th century. Both were masters of rhetoric—spoken persuasion in Lincoln’s case, written inducement in Darwin’s—and their words changed our beliefs. They made us beholden to the future, declares Gopnik, as we once were only to the past. The rigors of democracy and science became part of civilization’s habit. Logic and fact, including the fact of death, did matter after all. The author aspires to philosophical flights as he considers the question of what precisely Edwin Stanton said at the Emancipator’s deathbed. Did he aver that Lincoln “belongs to the ages,” or “to the angels”? Perhaps both apply, writes Gopnik, since this world embraces both the mundane and the evanescent.

Despite indulging in such bombastic statements as, “all their angels are ages, and the ages held out a distant halo of angels,” this talented, skillful critic achieves considerable new, heartfelt depth.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-27078-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2008

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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