Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Lincoln & Darwin: Shared Visions of Race, Science, and Religion

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Lincoln & Darwin: Shared Visions of Race, Science, and Religion

Article excerpt

Lincoln & Darwin: Shared Visions of Race, Science, and Religion. By James Lander. (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010. Pp. xv, 353, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $32.95.)

Other than being born on the same day in February 1809, there was little to suggest that Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln would have much in common. James Lander, however, contends that despite living under very different circumstances, Darwin and Lincoln shared similar ideas on race, science, and religion and that both men helped shape thinking long after their deaths. The purpose of Lander's very interesting book is to draw intellectual parallels between Darwin and Lincoln and to argue that these two giants of the nineteenth century led society toward "greater freedom of thought and a greater acceptance of human equality" (p. xi).

Lander, who teaches history at TASIS American School in England, is not the first scholar to compare Darwin and Lincoln. David Contosta (2008), Adam Gopnik (2009), and Robert Henn (2010) have also explored the parallels between the two men. Lander, however, offers a unique perspective by focusing on Lincoln's interest in science and Darwin's commitment to abolitionism. His ultimate purpose is to show how Darwin and Lincoln crystallized the principles of human equality and natural selection, which "changed their world" (p. 13) .Writing his book for a general audience, Lander does not offer a dual biography. Instead, he traces how Darwin and Lincoln held similar views on the importance of science, the difficulties of racism, and the ambiguity of religion. After discussing dissimilarities between their backgrounds and circumstances, Lander carefully traces each man's intellectual development in regard to the politics and science of race.

There is much to praise in this book. Lander employs a readable style that brings complex ideas and themes to a broad audience. He draws interesting comparisons between Darwin and Lincoln and asks new questions. Lander, for example, probes how Lincoln and Darwin could come to believe in the moral and political equality of the races when they were raised in a world in which white racial superiority appeared self-evident because of social circumstance, political and military power, and technology. …

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