Book Review: Rebel Giants

Several biographies about Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin have been written but this is the first time the lives of these two great men have been examined side by side. Both men were rebels as they turned the world of accepted norms on its head yet they hailed from vastly different upbringings. Darwin was born into a life of privilege, highly educated and wanting for nothing while Lincoln led a life of relative poverty and little schooling yet despite these differences, both rose to prominence and had a significant impact on the world.

The parallels between the two men are striking and seem to go beyond mere consequence yet until now, few writers or historians have pointed them out. Both men lost their mother early in life, neither got along with their fathers, they struggled with depression and religious doubt while searching for direction. Contosta argues that Darwin, with his groundbreaking work on evolution, was simply born at the right time, as someone was certain to shortly draw the same conclusions. Lincoln emerges as a more complex figure, deeply disturbed by the times, riddled with doubt, yet found pleasure in Shakespeare.

This is an illuminating look at two rebel giants who persevered in the face of hardships and personal demons. Contosta has presented a wealth of information in an approachable manner that will allow anyone with an interest in history to better understand the times and forces that shaped these remarkable men.

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