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February 12 was a big day in 1809. Abraham Lincoln was born in a wild Kentucky; Charles Darwin was born in a refined Shrewsbury, Shropshire. One man held together the Union. The other developed a theory that resonates through the sciences and beyond to this day. While it’s often difficult to unspool the impacts that individuals have on the world, it seems fair to say that these two minds did something consequential on this rock.
And in a 2009 essay, writer Adam Gopnik tried to get at the shared method of their influence.
“The deepest common stuff the two men share, though,” Gopnik says, “is in what they said and wrote—their mastery of a new kind of liberal language.”
“Darwin’s work remains probably the only book that changed science that an amateur can still sit down now and read right through,” he continues. “It’s so well written that we don’t think of it as well written, just as Lincoln’s speeches are so well made that they seem to us as obvious and natural as smooth stones on the beach.