Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: Charles and Emma

Summary: Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary tract on evolution and the fundamental ideas involved, in 1859. Nearly 150 years later, the theory of evolution continues to create tension between the scientific and religious communities. Challenges about teaching the theory of evolution in schools occur annually all over the country. This same debate raged within Darwin himself, and played an important part in his marriage: his wife, Emma, was quite religious, and her faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on a theory that continues to spark intense debates.

Deborah Heiligman's new biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion for young readers. -- Henry Holt

I have been interested in Charles Darwin and his ideas ever since I took an Anthropology class my freshmen year in college. I rarely read non-fiction books (outside of memoirs) but CHARLES AND EMMA: THE DARWIN'S LEAP OF FAITH by Deborah Heiligman definitely intrigued me. This book explores the relationship between Darwin, the man behind the concept of evolution, and his wife Emma who was a woman with very strong religious convictions. I thought the idea of a book that examines their relationship might be interesting to read. Plus it was a book geared for children ages 12 and up, so I thought I probably wouldn't have any problems understanding the science in it!

I have to admit that when I first picked up this book, I wasn't sure it was for me; however, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it. I thought the science parts were interesting and didn't bog down the reader with a lot of technical jargon -- the explanations were clear and easy to understand. And, I really liked learning about the Darwins' marriage and their children.

What I like most about this book were the parts about Charles and Emma and how they handled their differences in faith. From all accounts, their marriage seemed to be very strong and they certainly respected each other (although Emma did fear that Darwin's beliefs may keep him from heaven.) I thought it was fascinating how they reconciled such a huge difference in their marriage.

I really enjoyed learning more about Darwin as a man. While there is no doubt that he was an absolutely brilliant scientist, he also seemed to be such a sensitive man and caring father. He adored his wife as evidenced by his correspondence with her when they were apart, and it seemed like he managed to find time to play with his children despite his busy work schedule. I am amazed by how productive he was since he spent much of his time seriously ill. I truly believe that his frailties were compounded by the stress he incurred with his very controversial scientific discoveries.

I think high school aged children would probably appreciate this book more than younger ones. It isn't a difficult book to read, but it is a little on the long side (around 250 pages.) It most definitely will appeal to children who are interested in science and Darwin's ideas because some parts of the book do go into detail about his observations and writings. That's not to say that some readers will also enjoy the more biographical parts of the story as well as the love affair between Darwin and his wife.

Thanks to The Picnic Basket and Henry Holt for sending me a copy of this book.


bermudaonion said...

I love memoirs and biographies, so this book sounds fascinating to me. I never really thought about whether Darwin's wife believed in his theories.

teabird said...

Intriguing! Definitely on my tbr list. I never actually thought about Darwin's wife - what a wonderful idea for a biography.

Ti said...

Interesting. I didn't get right away that this was a book meant for young readers. It's a neat concept for a book.

Amy said...

How interesting! I have often wondered if I could marry someone of a different faith or belief system...I think I would be very sad to do so.

Nicole said...

I don't usually like biographies. But, this sounds interesting and since it's written for younger readers, maybe I won't be bogged down too much.

Beth F said...

Who taught your anthropology class? Probably someone I know.

Because I have a PhD in physical anthropology and genetics, I'm a big Darwin fan and have read a few books about him.

I'd be interested in reading this one, especially because the intended audience is YA.

Anna said...

I'm not sure this is my cup of tea, but it does sound interesting. Thanks for the review.

Diary of an Eccentric