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Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

4.1 17
by Deborah Heiligman

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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


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.

Charles and Emma is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.

Editorial Reviews

Bruce Barcott
…a delightful book about the question at the heart of the Darwins' marriage…In today's climate of division between religion and science, it's instructive to read about a marriage in which the two cultures improved each for exposure to the other.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This rewarding biography of Charles Darwin investigates his marriage to his cousin Emma Wedgwood. Heiligman (the Holidays Around the World series) has good reason for this unusual approach: as deeply as they loved each other, Emma believed in God, and Charles believed in reason. Embracing the paradoxes in her subjects' personalities, the author unfolds a sympathetic and illuminating account, bolstered by quotations from their personal writings as well as significant research into the historical context. We meet Charles as he weighs the pros and cons of wedded life-but then seeks his father's advice (Darwin père urges him to conceal his religious doubts); Emma becomes a more fervent believer after the death of her favorite (and more religious) sister. Heiligman writes for motivated readers, and her style can be discursive (mention of a letter can introduce a few sentences on the British postal system). Her book allows readers not only to understand Darwin's ideas, but to appreciate how Emma's responses tempered them. Eight pages of photos, not seen by PW.Ages 12-up. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
VOYA - Patti Sylvester Spencer
Creationism again leaped front and center with the help of the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate. In this courtship and marriage biography, the author examines an unlikely but powerful bond between cousins, the Origins of the Species scientist and the religious devotee love of his life. Beginning with Darwin's "to marry or not to marry" pro/con lists through Emma editing Charles' autobiography so that it would be less "offensive," the couple provided for each other sounding board, respected opposition, and beloved soulmate. Naturalist, voyager, and revolutionary thinker, Charles proved wrong his father's early concern: "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and your family.o Instead of being footnoted, the primary source quotations that abound are documented as end-of-book, source-notes. The author includes family trees and a selected bibliography. In a century of texting and iMing, readers might marvel at the importance of letters and the time it takes correspondence and people to travel. The volume provides a unique blend of romance, scientific observations, explanations of medical practices prevalent in the early-nineteenth century, and opportunities to examine scientific discoveries and religious beliefs in detail. The book might be of particular use in interdisciplinary course work. Reviewer: Patti Sylvester Spencer
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

Beginning with Darwin's notorious chart listing reasons to wed and not to wed, Heiligman has created a unique, flowing, and meticulously researched picture of the controversial scientist and the effect of his marriage on his life and work. Using the couple's letters, diaries, and notebooks as well as documents and memoirs of their relatives, friends, and critics, the author lets her subjects speak for themselves while rounding out the story of their relationship with information about their time and place. She shows how Darwin's love for his intelligent, steadfast, and deeply religious cousin was an important factor in his scientific work-pushing him to document his theory of natural selection for decades before publishing it with great trepidation. Just as the pair embodied a marriage of science and religion, this book weaves together the chronicle of the development of a major scientific theory with a story of true love. Published for young adults, this title will be equally interesting to adults drawn to revisit Darwin on his 200th birthday.-Ellen Heath, Easton Area Public Library, Easton, PA

Kirkus Reviews
This rich, insightful portrait of Charles and Emma Darwin's marriage explores a dimension of the naturalist's life that has heretofore been largely ignored. Emma was devoutly religious while Charles's agnosticism increased as he delved deeper into his studies of natural history, but they did not let this difference come between them. While unable to agree with Charles's theory that essentially eliminated God from the process of creation, Emma remained open-minded and supportive, even reading drafts of The Origin of Species and suggesting improvements. Using excerpts from correspondence, diaries and journals, Heiligman portrays a relationship grounded in mutual respect. The narrative conveys a vivid sense of what life was like in Victorian England, particularly the high infant mortality rate that marred the Darwins' happiness and the challenges Charles faced in deciding to publish his controversial theory. While this book does not serve as an introduction to Darwin's life and ideas, readers wanting to know more will discover two brilliant thinkers whose marital dialectic will provide rich fodder for discussions of science and faith. (introduction, source notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12 & up)
From the Publisher

“The unlikely, and happy marriage of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgewood comes to life in Heiligman's intelligent and fast-moving book. Emma, a devout Christian but a sympathetic editor, helped make the arguments in ‘On the Origin of Species' airtight. Meanwhile readers can almost effortlessly absorb Darwin's ideas and the culture in which they developed, along with a portrait of Victorian everyday life.” —New York Times Book Review, 2009 Notable Book

“With empathy, humor and insight, Heiligman proves the truth of the maxim that behind every great man there is indeed a great woman. There have been many Darwin-themed books published this year (which marks the 200th anniversary of his birth). This is clearly the best.” —NPR.org

“A delightful book about the question at the heart of the Darwins' marriage.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Heiligman's writing is so good--so rooted in particulars of time, place and Darwin's scientific thought, yet so light and full of drama--that readers will care about Charles and Emma and their love story. The debate between science and religion continues, today, but the relationship of Charles and Emma Darwin demonstrates that science and religion are not incompatible.” —Bookpage

“This is the ‘wow' biography on the Darwins - meticulously researched, richly rendered and rewarding every step of the way.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Heiligman conveys the social order of the day, the comfort religion provided and even, yes, the evolution of Darwin's thoughts.” —The Washington Post Book World

“There's an extraordinary sense of how persistent and vigorous Darwin's scientific thought was, and of what an unusually loving and involved parent and husband he was...Great for young readers to watch scientific work as a personal project.” —The Chicago Tribune

“Allows readers not only to understand Darwin's ideas, but to appreciate how Emma's responses tempered them.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Heiligman has created a unique, flowing, and meticulously researched picture of the controversial scientist and the effect of his marriage on his life and work.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Here is a timely, relevant book that works on several levels: as a history of science, as a biography, and, last but not least, as a romance.” —Horn Book, starred review

“This intersection between religion and science is where the book shines, but it is also an excellent portrait of what life was like during the Victorian era, a time when illness and death were ever present, and, in a way, a real-time example of the survival of the fittest.” —Booklist, starred review

“Come for the science, stay for the love story” —BCCB, starred review

“This rich, insightful portrait of Charles and Emma Darwin's marriage explores a dimension of the naturalist's life that has heretofore been largely ignored...readers wanting to know more will discover two brilliant thinkers whose marital dialectic will provide rich fodder for discussions of science and faith.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A unique blend of romance, scientific observations, explanations of medical practices prevalent in the earlynineteenth century, and opportunities to examine scientific discoveries and religious beliefs in detail.” —VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

“The conflicts between science and religion are daunting subjects, but Deborah Heiligman's beautiful book Charles and Emma unravels all the complexity through the lives of two remarkable people. At its heart, "Charles and Emma" is a love story--but it is amazing how much you learn by the time you finish. I enjoyed every page.” —Professor Ari L. Goldman, Columbia University, author of "The Search for God at Harvard."

“Not only among the very best [Darwin biographies], but it provides something new, which is quite an achievement in such a crowded field.” —John Bonner, Professor Emeritus, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University

“It is magnificent and will be a much loved and read book by many people.” —Rosemary Grant, Senior Research Biologist, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University

“I loved the book and feel strongly that it should be marketed to readers of many ages and not restricted to students.” —Mary Lou Gleason, New York Academy of Sciences

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Better Than a Dog

Why, the shape of his head is quite altered.



In the summer of 1838, in his rented rooms on Great Marlborough Street, London, Charles Darwin drew a line down the middle of a piece of scrap paper. He had been back in England for almost two years, after a monumental voyage around the world. He was in his late twenties. It was time to decide. Across the top of the left-hand side, he wrote Marry. On the right he wrote Not Marry. And in the middle: This is the Question. It was easy for Charles to think of things to write under Not Marry.

"Freedom to go where one liked," he began. Charles loved to travel. His voyage had lasted almost five years; he had been the naturalist on the HMS Beagle, a British surveying ship. He was horribly seasick while on board, but he spent as much time as he could on land, exploring on horseback and onfoot, and collecting thousands of specimens, from corals in the Cocos-Keeling Islands of the Indian Ocean to beetles in Australia to a fox in Chiloé Island, Chile. He now lived in London with his servant from the Beagle, Syms Covington, "Fiddler and Boy to the Poop Cabin." Charles had taught Syms to shoot and skin birds and to help him list and catalogue the specimens. Now Charles and Syms were surrounded by neatly stacked wooden crates, casks, and barrels filled with many of their treasures from Patagonia, Brazil, Chile, and Tierra del Fuego: fossil bones, skins, shells, fish preserved in spirits of wine, mammalia in spirits of wine, insects, reptiles and birds in spirits of wine, plants, rocks, carcasses of dead animals, and beetles. What if Charles wanted to go on another adventure and collect more specimens? How could he do that if he got married?

Next, under Not Marry he wrote: "—choice of Society & little of it.—Conversation of clever men at clubs—" On Great Marlborough Street, Charles lived just a few doors away from his older brother, Erasmus, and he was

spending much of his time with Eras and his circle of intellectual friends, which included the historian and writer Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane; the writer Harriet Martineau; and the Darwins’ first cousin, Hensleigh Wedgwood. They discussed the huge changes in England brought on by industrialization. When Charles had left for his voyage, there were a few trains; now the railroad zigzagged all over the country, reaching places only horse-drawn carriages had gone before. The growing number of mills and factories changed the landscape as well; towns and cities were expanding, as was the division between rich and poor. The rich benefited from the new industry and from Great Britain’s burgeoning empire.

The poor suffered in the squalor that Charles Dickens was capturing so well in his serialized novels. Erasmus and his circle debated the Poor Laws, which were shunting the destitute into workhouses; they discussed the need for social


There were divisions in religion in nineteenth-century England, too. Religious zealots and religious dissenters were making noise while members of the Church of England and Unitarians like the Darwins also quietly questioned their

faith. Freethinking liberals, Eras and his circle were respected members of the British upper classes, and Charles found it easy—and stimulating—to be with them. Because they were open-minded and liberal, Charles knew he could broach with them some of the radical scientific thoughts he was beginning to have. This was what mattered to him. Not going to dinner parties, teas, and other torturous social occasions where people inundated him with seemingly endless questions about his travels.

Not that all of his social occasions were torturous. Charles was spending time with—and being courted by—three sisters in one family. The Horner girls were clever young women, well-read and educated, with promising intellectual

futures. They even shared his interest in natural history, geology, and zoology. Their oldest sister, Mary, was already married to a new friend of his, Charles Lyell, a prominent geologist. Mr. Horner approved of Charles Darwin as a son-inlaw and hoped for a match. "I have not seen anyone for a long time with a greater store of accurate knowledge," he wrote to Mary. Erasmus teased Charles, calling Mrs. Horner "Motherin-law." So the marriage question was not hypothetical. And Charles Darwin was a good catch. He was a tall man, about six feet, thickset—big but not fat. He was athletic and fit from his adventures on the voyage. He dressed conservatively in the styles of the day: tailcoat, fine linen shirt with standing collar, and tall hat. He had gray eyes, a ruddy complexion, and a pleasant face, though he did not like his nose, which he felt was too big and bulbous. He was from an upstanding, wealthy

family; he had much to talk about, and he had a promising future. His reputation had, as they say, preceded him. While he was traveling, Charles had sent back thousands of his specimens to his old Cambridge professor, John Stevens Henslow. Some of these specimens had begun to make him famous in the natural history world before he had even returned to England, including a rare fossil head of a giant ground sloth he had found in Argentina "in horizontal position in the cemented gravel; the upper jaw & molars exposed," as Charles had written in his first geological specimen notebook. The remarkable fossil sloth head had been presented at a meeting of the British Association of the Advancement of Science in Cambridge.

But if he were to marry one of the Horner girls, or anyone else, he could see the obligations ahead, whereas if he remained single, he would be freer to pursue his science. He added to the Not Marry side of his list, "Not forced to

visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle." He liked his brother, his sisters, his cousins the Wedgwoods. But what if he didn’t like his wife’s relatives? There was so much compromising you had to do if you were married. He could see it in his friends, many of whom had gotten married while he was away.

Walking down the street one day not long after he had gotten back, he had seen his cousin Hensleigh carrying a child in one hand and a round box in the other. Hensleigh had married a cousin from the other side of his family in 1832, the year Charles left on the voyage. (First cousins often married at this time, especially in the upper classes.) Now Hensleigh had two children, and Charles shuddered at the thought of all the juggling a young father had to do. Did he want the responsibility? His reaction to this scene was so strong that it made the rounds of the family gossip: Emma Wedgwood, Hensleigh’s sister, wrote to her sister-in-law with amusement how struck Charles was by Hensleigh’s juggling. Not surprising, therefore, that Charles continued his Not Marry list with "—to have the expense & anxiety of children— perhaps quarrelling." It wasn’t just the time and distraction that worried him; although he was frugal, he doubted he would ever make enough money by collecting beetles and writing about coral. Lack of money always led to fights, that he knew. And could he stand the anxiety and worry of having children? Cholera, a deadly disease, had just reached England for the first time, and there were epidemics of typhus, typhoid fever, and scarlet fever. Children got sick, children died. So there would be worry about health along with worry about money. And it all would take so much time. That was the crux of the issue. He wrote and underlined twice "Loss of time."

Charles needed as many hours a day as he could have to do his work. First of all, he had to solicit more experienced naturalists to help him analyze his specimens. Charles had so many kinds of specimens; he was not an expert on every bird, bone, and bug. He had already given out his rare Megatherium bones and his finches and mockingbirds from the Galapagos Islands. But he had more of his collections to distribute to experts, and he had to urge them, coax them, to tell him what they thought. What did he have? Had he found new species? What significance did his finds have, if any?

As a single man with no family responsibilities, he could meet with these experts, go to scientific meetings, and visit museums and libraries whenever he wanted to. He didn’t have to worry about a wife or her relatives dictating how his

time should be spent.

Charles felt strongly that he had no time to waste. Near the end of his voyage, he had heard from one of his sisters that Henslow and another old professor of his, Adam Sedgwick, were both very interested in the bones he had sent back. Sedgwick declared his collection "above all praise" and said that Charles would have "a great name among the Naturalists of Europe." Charles found this terribly gratifying and knew that with those endorsements he would continue to work hard on natural history. He wrote, "A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life."

Before the voyage, Charles had been a typical natural history collector. In nineteenth-century England, everyone from country parsons to teenage girls collected butterflies, flowers, even stuffed birds and fossil bones. Looking at God’s wondrous handiwork was a worthwhile avocation, and in some cases, vocation. Collectors tried to amass and describe as many of God’s species as possible and hoped to find new crabs, moths, finches, or ferns. And if you were lucky, the new species you discovered would be named after you—Charles had a few named after him, including a South American ostrichlike bird, the Rhea darwinii, and a frog that lived in Chile and Argentina, Rhinoderma darwinii.

Although he was pleased to have such an extensive collection, Charles was thinking about something bigger when he looked at his fossils. He was thinking about the origins of life. While on the voyage, reading Charles Lyell’s rinciples of Geology and looking at desert islands, rugged cliffs, and volcanoes,

Charles knew that Lyell was right: Earth was not formed in 4004 B.C. as Archbishop James Ussher had calculated in 1658. This date had been incorporated into an authorized Bible in 1701, and many people still believed it was a fact. But Charles was certain that the earth was formed much longer ago than that and was still being formed. Once he realized that the earth was changing, that the story of creation in the Bible was not literally true, Charles’s mind was opened to the possibility of a different kind of creation in the animal and plant kingdoms. Looking at the specimens he had collected, Charles realized that species were forming and changing all the time, too. The idea of evolution, or transmutation, as it was then called, had been debated and refuted for years. But toward the end of his voyage, and now back in England, as he looked at bird specimens from the Galapagos Islands, Charles had the beginnings

of a new theory to explain transmutation. He felt sure that if he could work it through, he would change the way the world thought about creation. He desperately wanted and needed to work it through. He had started the great project already, and he was consumed by it, giving it hours and hours every day. He was making copious notes in small leather notebooks filled with high-quality paper made from linen rags. Each notebook was labeled with a letter.

He had opened the first one, a brown leather notebook with a metal clasp, in July 1837. On the cream-colored pages, he had begun to jot down his secret and revolutionary thoughts about the origin of new species. Examining pecimens he had collected, Charles was finding evidence that went against the prevailing concept of creation, which was that God had created all the species of birds, bees, and beetles at once and that there were no new

ones since the first creation. Some people argued that fossils existed because God, displeased with his creations, had engineered a few worldwide catastrophes that had destroyed all the existent species and then had started creation all over again. But Charles had a very different idea, and he was accumulating pages and pages of observations, thoughts, ideas, and questions, filling up more and more notebooks, each with a different focus and marked with a different letter. He had many questions, from the everyday: "Owls. transport mice alive?" to the pointed: "How easily does Wolf & Dog cross?" How could he answer all of them if he succumbed to the mundane responsibilities of married life? He would have to spend his time hurrying down the street with a box in one arm and a baby in the other. There was so much to write on the Not Marry side of the page!

He continued, "Cannot read in the Evenings—fatness & idleness—Anxiety & responsibility—less money for books &c if many children forced to gain one’s bread." And yet, even on this side of the paper, he conceded "(But

then it is very bad for ones health to work too much)." Back to the negatives. "Perhaps my wife won’t like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent,idle fool."

Charles wasn’t completely sure he liked London himself. The city was noisy and dirty, the weather murky, the air often polluted with a yellow smog from the new factories and from all the fireplaces burning dirty coal. He often longed for the countryside near Wales where he grew up. But he thought that living in the country might make him lazy, which would be terrible for his work. He absolutely did not want to be either idle or a fool. On the other hand, you could stay in London and still be idle. Erasmus was; he was no fool, but he had neither a wife nor a career. Charles looked at him and knew that was not what he wanted.

So. That’s where he ended his list of reasons not to marry Under Marry, Charles began: "Children—(if it please God)." He did enjoy other people’s children. He played with them, and he observed them. He wrote in one of his secret notebooks "Children have an uncommon pleasure in hiding themselves & skulking about in shrubbery. When other people are about: this is analogous to young pigs hiding themselves." Looking at his friends’ and cousins’ children he thought not only of pigs but also of "savages," as the English called native people. During his voyage around the world, his encounters with natives had been startling and enlightening.

On the Beagle there were three people from Tierra del Fuego who had lived for a while in England. They had been "civilized" in that they now wore British clothes and had adopted British manners. But when Charles and his shipmates first arrived in Tierra del Fuego, a group of natives perched on an overhang above the sea "sprang up, and waving their tattered cloaks sent forth a loud and sonorous shout." They wore little clothing. Some of them, even full-grown women, were completely naked. Their hair was tangled, but many of the people had dramatically painted faces, with a bright red bar from ear to ear, white-chalked eyelids, streaks of black charcoal. As different as they looked, they were able to communicate with the English travelers and could imitate anything.

One native man had learned new dance steps, which impressed Charles. Spending time with these people had made Charles think of ways that pigs, children, primitive peoples, Englishmen all were related. This was a clue to his secret theory.

But now, thinking about children, he was thinking also as a man and a potential father. It would be nice to have his own little piggies skulking about in the bushes.

Charles definitely liked to be surrounded by people. He had good friends and was close to his sisters and his brother. Having a wife would be really nice. He continued on the Marry side, "constant companion (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one—"

He hoped his wife would live a long time, unlike his mother, who had died painfully, probably of an infection, when Charles was only eight. His father, an experienced and extremely successful doctor, had not been able to save her. Her death devastated Dr. Darwin, though Charles himself hardly remembered her. He hoped he would find someone who would be interested in him, definitely, but he also wanted someone he could love. He wrote "object to be beloved & played with."

And then: "better than a dog anyhow."

Sometimes Charles thought dogs were easier than people. He had loved dogs since he was a boy, and they loved him. When Charles had just gotten back from the voyage, he found it difficult at first to resume where he had left off with his sisters and his father. He had changed, and they didn’t seem to be able to adjust to that. But when he went out into the yard and whistled, his dog (who was surly to everyone else but adored him) rushed out to walk with him, as if their last walk had been the day before, not five years earlier. Why couldn’t people be more like dogs? he wondered—and wished. But a dog can’t do everything, and so a wife would be better than a dog anyhow.

He listed more positives: "Home, & someone to take care of house—Charms of music & female chit-chat.—These things good for one’s health.—but—"

There it was again—"terrible loss of time." Too much music, too much chitchat. Not enough time to do his work. Again he looked at his brother, Erasmus. Even though he was a bachelor, Eras spent much of his time with women—mostly other men’s wives—taking them on errands in his carriage, going to dinners. But then he returned them to their husbands. Harriet Martineau wasn’t married, and there was gossip about Harriet and Erasmus. But Eras seemed determined to remain single. His father and sisters wanted to fix him up with their cousin Emma Wedgwood, mostly to stop the gossip, but so far nothing had happened there. Erasmus was in control of his own life, as Charles could be if he stayed a bachelor, too. Yet—

"My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones wholelife, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all.— No, no won’t do.—Imagine living all one’s day solitarily in smoky dirty London House."

Alone in his smoky, dirty London house, Charles thought about love and romance and what went with it. He read poems by the romantics William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge—"Where true Love burns Desire is Love’s pure flame. . . ." He filled his notebooks with the scientific aspects of love, with questions about breeding and heredity. So far most of his questions were about animals, but in his notebook marked "B," Charles wrote in brown ink on pages with faint green rules, "In Man it has been said, there is instinct for opposites to like each other." Perhaps he and his wife would be opposites, but close.

"Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music perhaps—"

And heading off to bed later.

He ended his list under Marry, "Compare this version with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ St."—his life on Great Marlborough Street, where he went to bed alone.

The lists on the left and right side of the page looked about the same length. But Charles felt that he had found more reasons to marry than not. He wrote on the left side, squeezed at the bottom, the answer to his question: "Marry—

Marry—Marry Q.E.D."

QED: quod erat demonstrandum, Latin for "which was to be demonstrated or proved." He had proven to himself that he should get married. On paper at least. But he had one other fear, a fear that he could not bring himself to write down. The issue was too big. He would have to talk to his father.

Excerpted from Charles and Emaa by Deborah Heiligman.
Copyright © 2009 by Deborah Heiligman.
Published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

Deborah Heiligman has written more than twenty books for children. She graduated from Brown University, and started her writing career working for Scholastic News Explorer, the classroom magazine, but left when she wanted to be home with her children, and then she started writing her books. She is married to Jonathan Weiner, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for The Beak of the Finch.

Deborah Heiligman is the author of Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, a National Book Award finalist and winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. She has written more than twenty books for children, most of them nonfiction. She graduated from Brown University, and started her writing career working for Scholastic News Explorer, the classroom magazine. She loved this job, but left when she had children and wanted to be home with them, and then she started writing her books. She is married to Jonathan Weiner, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for The Beak of the Finch.

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Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
The_hibernators More than 1 year ago
Charles and Emma is an educational young adult biography of Charles Darwin's relationship with his wife, Emma, and how they compromised over their different views of God. It was well-written and interesting. However, I had a few objections. First, the description of the book sounds like it is unbiased about Darwin's questionable belief in God. Heiligman clearly leans in the Darwin-was-an-athiest direction. However, that is a forgivable short-coming, given the highly charged topic. My second complaint is that Heiligman mentioned multiple times how delighted Darwin was to "go to bed" in the evenings with his wife. Does this really need to be pointed out to young teens? My third complaint is her rendition of the 1860 Huxley-Wilberforce debates: the famous conversation that took place in these debates is interesting to note, but she made it sound like it definitely happened. Given that no written record of the debates exist, there is some doubt what was actually said. There is even a possibility that the conversation is simply a well-known rumor. Heiligman (who clearly did a lot of research for this book) would have known about these uncertainties, but she chose to portray the conversation as if it were a word-for-word quote. I think it's always best to point out to teenagers when interesting stories are possibly just rumors and when they are definitely true. It educates teens about the lasting power of rumor, and also saves them possible embarrassment in the future.
Barby1 More than 1 year ago
A very appealing account of Charles Darwin's life story. It shows Darwin's scientific approach to so many aspects of his life including marriage and family. This biography reads like a novel rather than the usual dry biographies written about scientists. The insert of photographs are lovely and the family tree is very helpful. All in all, a delightful read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Charles and Emma was a surprisingly delightful. I was impressed with how intrigued I was chapter by chapter despite it being a slower read. Deborah Heiligman has masterfully compiled her research of Charles and Emma’s life so perfectly that I felt like a spectator at the Down House watching the couple and their family for their 46 years of marriage.  Heiligman also captures perfectly their curious ability to co-exist despite their drastic religious difference—Charles’s non-acclaimed agnostic belief and Emma’s staunch Catholic faith. I accredit Emma and Charles compassionate, and nonjudgmental and open mindedness to their ability to love persistently and never let a void venture to separate them even by the tiniest degree. Their endearing love, however, did not excluded feeling the occasional high-strung tension of their heart’s connection; Emma with her worry of Charles’s soul, will he be with her in heaven? And Charles with his focused study of science accrediting him to not accept the church’s current belief of God’s way and character. Charles and Emma's passionate and undying loyalty to each other exemplifies that heart-devoted relationships can still exist despite varying differences. If you like non-fiction, romance success stories then this would be a good read for you.
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It's an interesting and fun book(: