Wednesday, December 8, 2010

YA BOOK REVIEW: Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman is the dual biography of Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma Wedgwood. Naturally, it tells the story of how Darwin developed his theory of evolution, but it gives equal attention to the crucial role played by his wife and family. It shows how important Emma was to Charles.

The Darwins' marriage was based on love, mutual respect, and compatibility. Emma discussed Charles’s theories with him; she proofread his manuscripts. However, Emma, unlike Charles, was deeply religious. She understood what his theories implied about the role of God in creation, and she was terrified for Charles’s immortal soul. The tension this caused in the marriage mirrored the crisis that would erupt when Charles formalized his theory and finally published The Origin of Species. But it was Emma’s support that had allowed him to prepare for what was to come and to better appreciate the point of view of the opposition.

Charles and Emma uses quotes and excerpts from letters and diaries to provide an entertaining, easy to read, straightforward narrative of the lives of this couple. While full of information, it is written in an engaging style so the reader is never bogged down. The book is also a 2010 National Book Award Finalist and a 2010 Michael L. Printz Honor Book. So you don’t have to take my word for how good this book is!