Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312661045
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 11/22/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 150,809
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 1020L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About 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.

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 reform.
     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 specimens 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 whole life, 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.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Chapter 1 Better Than a Dog,
Chapter 2 Rat Catching,
Chapter 3 Conceal Your Doubts,
Chapter 4 Where Doors and Windows Stand Open,
Chapter 5 Little Miss Slip-Slop,
Chapter 6 The Next World,
Chapter 7 The Sensation of Fear,
Chapter 8 A Leap,
Chapter 9 A Busy Man,
Chapter 10 Melancholy Thoughts,
Chapter 11 A Whirl of Noise and Motion,
Chapter 12 Heavy Baggage, Blazing Fires,
Chapter 13 Definition of Happiness,
Chapter 14 Pregnant Thoughts,
Chapter 15 Little Animalcules,
Chapter 16 Down in the Country,
Chapter 17 Sudden Deaths,
Chapter 18 Barnacles and Babies,
Chapter 19 Doing Custards,
Chapter 20 A Fretful Child,
Chapter 21 God Only Knows the Issue,
Chapter 22 A Dear and Good Child,
Chapter 23 Against the Rules,
Chapter 24 Terrible Suffering,
Chapter 25 The Origins of The Origin,
Chapter 26 Dependent on Each Other in So Complex a Manner,
Chapter 27 What the Lord Hath Delivered,
Chapter 28 Feeling, Not Reasoning,
Chapter 29 Such a Noise,
Chapter 30 Mere Trickery,
Chapter 31 Warmth to the End,
Chapter 32 Happy Is the Man,
Chapter 33 Unasked Questions,
Epilogue So Much to Worship,
Family Tree,
Source Notes,
Selected Bibliography,
Square Fish,
Readers' Theater compiled from passages of Charles and Emma,
Vincent and Theo Excerpt,
About the Author,

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What does it say about Charles's character that he made a pro/con list to decide whether he should get married or not?

2. What effect do you think that fact Dr. Darwin allowed his children freedom of thought regarding religion had on Charles's professional life?

3. Do you agree with Dr. Darwin's marital advice to his son?

4. Explain the quote on page 46 "education and environment produce only a small effect on the mind of anyone … most of our qualities are innate." Does this sound like any popular scientific theory you know of?

5. What does Charles mean when he uses the term "materialism"? (Chapter 7)

6. Why did the author include the information about slavery and Charles's position and thoughts upon the subject? (see page 72)

7. Could Charles's theory of evolution have upset the church in ways other than upsetting the belief in creationism? (see pages 74 ff.)

8. At the bottom of page 120 Charles believes that revealing his theory on the mutability of species will be like murdering God. Is there a way to reconcile believing in God and accepting a theory such as evolution?

9. Why did Emma help to edit Charles's sketch of his species theory? (see page 123)

10. What do you think of Emma's morality story on page 165?

11. Why do you think that the first book on the ability of species to change (Vestiges of Natural History of Creation) received more attention than Charles's book?

12. Why do you think Charles chose to put God into the second edition of his book? What effect did it have on the work? (Chapter 27)

13. How do you feel about Charles being buried in a church? Do you agree with Emma that he would have accepted the offer to be buried in Westminster Abbey?

14. In the Epilogue Gwen, Charles's granddaughter states "Of course we always felt embarrassed if our grandfather were mentioned, just as we did if God were spoken of." She describes Charles's study as "faintly holy and sinister, like a church." She goes further on to say "At Down, there are more things to worship than anywhere else in the world." How are these statements ironic?

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Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 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.
smclawler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On February 12, the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin¿s birth will arrive, and it seems appropriate to study and learn more about this revolutionary thinker. By reading Deborah Heiligman¿s Charles and Emma: The Darwin¿s Leap of Faith, one feels that the Darwins are actually telling their story through their letters and diaries. As the story unfolds, the reader is transformed from curious outsider to trusted friend and possibly part of the family. Research allows for the use of direct quotes which guide the reader through the lives of this very remarkable couple. Both the marriage of Emma and Charles and development of his theory of evolution are treated as equally important. The reader learns that although Emma did not agree with her husband¿s theory, she listened, she debated, and she corrected the grammar and spelling in his manuscript. The both respected the others views. We also learn that Charles was unaware of the very relevant genetic studies being conducted by Austrian monk Gregor Mendel during this time. I truly recommend this book for those that like biography, those who like science, those who like Victorian social history, or those who appreciate a love story. Depending on the situation, Heiligman¿s book could be used in middle school and up, and I think adults would appreciate it, too
oapostrophe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put this one down. The story of Darwin's studies and theories is a fascinating story on it's own, but here is added the story of his marriage to Emma, the love of his life. Their life together in Victorian England is really brought to life with much use made of the many letters they wrote to one another throughout their lives. We are shown in great detail the struggles Charles had in deciding whether to marry, how he and Emma could manage with their different beliefs, the difficulties of children and illness. All this is delivered to us in a thoroughly readable text. A wonderful love story about a hugely influential figure. Recommend to 5th grade and up.
Megabaker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although this is tagged as a Young Adult book, I'm not sure why. It was not written especially simply, and I found it to be a thoughtful biography with an interesting premise: the conflicts of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theories with his personal life, including a wife who was religious. It gave a wonderful domestic portrait of Darwin and his personal and familial struggles.
jenniferthomp75 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books of the year. Charles Darwin has a dilemma. He's not sure whether to get married. Luckily, he does. He marries his first cousin, Emma, and so begins a beautiful relationship. Darwin's marriage is also a marriage of science and religion. Emma is a Christian; Darwin is agnostic. The book shows, through humor and honesty, how Darwin's discovery of evolution put him at odds with much of the community, his wife and challenged his own beliefs. However, no matter how radical his scientific discoveries, his wife believed in him.Part scientific journey, part biography and part romance, this book should be read by all.
audryh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful account of Darwin's marriage to his first cousin, Emma. They were close companions and confidantes their whole married life. Although she was very religious and worried that she would not be with Charles in heaven, she continued to support his work and writings. Was his best editor. A real love story. Very good YA book for adults.
jlynno84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I must say I was a bit reluctant when I picked up this book, worried about what kind of viewpoint it would take. I was pleasantly surprised, finding that the author does a fantastic job of providing a balanced telling. Heiligman does a great job respecting the beliefs and doubts of the characters, and provides a uniquely human picture of Charles Darwin.The love between Charles and Emma is touching and honest. The tradegies they endure are heartbreaking, but the joy they seem to find in their family life is heartwarming. I would highly recommend this book to readers on both side of the evolutionary debate.
WarriorLibrary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very personal look at the great man. All the historical facts really let you know who he was.
mkschoen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This biography of Charles Darwin begins with him putting together a list - on one side of the page are reasons to get married, on the other reasons not to. ¿better than a dog anyhow¿ vs. ¿less money for books.¿ One of the big reasons not to is his growing sense of disbelief in God and religion. Darwin makes his choice, beginning a 43-year partnership with his cousin Emma Wedgwood, but her steadfast belief in God is the one issue that comes between them.Heiligman tries to use the religious debate as a frame for the biography. I don't think she succeeded as well wit that - there's not as much conflict there as she seems to think there is. But it's a well-told, albeit somewhat slowly-paced, story. Heiligman does a good job of explaining the complex issues of natural selection and evolution in simple language, as well as the controversy surrounding the issue that continues to this day. Historical figures all to often come across as stuffy, but the Darwin in this book is an amusing real person - an absent-minded professor and beloved father and husband. What to read next: The book has a wide-ranging bibliography at the end, ranging from Darwin's own works, which might be a bit rough for a high-school student, to Austen's Emma, which would appeal to a student who enjoys the gentle Victorian romance presented here. Dickens would also work for those students. On the science side "The Beak of the Finch" by Heiligman's husband Jonathon Weiner, would be an excellent choice. There's obviously a wealth of adult books on this topic; I might also suggest one of Simon Winchester's books - different topics, but the tone is similar and the way of presenting a scientific topic in a sort of novel format might engage a reader.
Channice on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is not only about the life and time of Charles Darwin, but about the struggles he and his wife Emma Darwin goes through to maintain their relationship. Back when Charles and Emma were alive, everybody believe in what the church say, and Emma was a very religious person, so was Chaeles. That is until he found evidence and came to a conclusion that some of what the church say might not be true. Emma worried that Charles would die and not go to heaven with he, Emma try to get Religion back into Charles but the more he research the more be turn his back on religion. Eventhough the two deffer when it come to Religion, they still love each other deeply, and they both live a long life together with their kids.
LibraryBlondie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't read a lot of nonfiction and almost never biographies, but I loved this book. It reads like fiction but the basis for the author's characterization of the Darwins is letters and writings that they and their family members have left behind. I found it totally engrossing. I love that the book is not simply a dry list of what Charles Darwin did in his life nor is it an argument for (or against) his scientific theories. What it is is partly a love story between him and his wife Emma, partly the story or their life and marriage, partly a story of the conflict between Charles's scientific ideas and doubt in Christianity and Emma's strong belief in the need for salvation through Jesus. It's also in part a love story between Charles and science itself as his absolute love for it is clear. It's incredible to see how wonderful a marriage Charles and Emma had despite their differing beliefs. Emma worried about Charles's soul her whole life but still supported and respected his science and even edited his writings for him. Charles respected Emma¿s belief and graciously considered her arguments for faith, but could not bring himself to believe. They also supported each other through the deaths of children, chronic illness, and the firestorm that The Origin of Species caused. I was attached enough to both Charles and Emma that I actually got tears in my eyes when they died at the end of the book.
lilibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A biography of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma Wedgewood, and their family, with detailed descriptions of his developing the theory of natural selection and the contrast between his lack of religious belief and his wife's religiousness. Includes table of contents, index and notes, as well as a small selection of photographs.
Redhope on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The thing that struck me most about this book was the respect that Charles and Emma had for one another's polar beliefs and I think this is echoed in the style of writing - the author obviously found this of interest, and gave the two characters a very balanced view. I often find bios a little dry, but this was a light easy read with much information about Victorian upper class families in England. I believe it is tagged as a young adult book because of the references to sexual desire....
mummybattle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 Wedgewood, Darwin¿s cousin, was a highly intelligent and deeply religious woman, a fascinating counterpoint to her equally brilliant husband and his unyielding belief in the world of science and reason. Together, they were a remarkable team, bonded by a deep mutual respect, admiration, and love. They constantly challenged each other¿s beliefs and ideas about the world, Emma chiding Charles for his inability to believe in spiritual faith, and Charles countering by expressing how ridiculous it is to place faith in something impossible to rationally or scientifically explain. So vital and inspiring was Emma to Charles that I found myself wondering what may have been had they not met. Emma, with her support, understanding, and intellect, had as much to do with the emergence of Darwin¿s theory of evolution as did his lifelong fascination with the natural world, and this seemingly disparate mix of religious conviction and scientific reason converged in a relationship that forever changed how we see the world
m.gilbert on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A really interesting biography and one I read relatively quickly. I have been reading a few books on Darwin lately (and started his autobiography a while ago), so one devoted to his relationship with his religious and brilliant, open-minded wife was fascinating and moving. The conflict between evolution and creation has never been a personal one for me, as I believe that each reside on two different epistemological universes. But it is evident that since the publication of On the Origin of Species, the world would forever be shaped by its profound questioning of intelligent design and Biblical doxa.Emma Darwin was extremely well-read, lively, and supportive of her husband's lifelong dedication to the study of natural history. And he, in turn, always gave his manuscripts to her first. She then edited his work for clarity and diction, even proofreading for his atrocious uses of commas. Reading On the Origin of Species and watching God slowly recede from Darwin's life was a source of anguish for her. But her love for him and her pride in his work was so very central to her existence. The biography includes letters and short diary entries written by the both of them. Their relationship was extraordinary.
DevonBrenner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Clunky writing, but overall an great story. Love the history, the science, the love story. Helped me understand natural selection and think about the role of faith in science.
mamzel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Instead of arguing the merits of evolution vs. creationism, we have here the story of Charles Darwin and his devoted wife. We follow the story of their relationship along with the development of his theories and publishing of his books. Where a deeply religious Emma could not support his views, she did support him and was able to help him word his arguments so that they did not insult people but gave them the theory with all possible respect. What the reader finds is an excellent pairing of two people who shared everything from reading books to mourning the death of their children (two of their ten children). The story is presented with many excerpts from their personal correspondence and journals. This book has received high praise from reviewers and was a National Book Award finalist.
The_Hibernator on LibraryThing 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.
frood42 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Several years after traveling with the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin chose to marry Emma Wedgewood. At this time, Charles's newly developing theories about natural selection were causing him to question his own belief in God, which he confessed to his deeply religious bride-to-be. Emma chose to marry him despite their religious differences, and the story of their lives together is one of the marriage of science and faith, as portrayed in this biography. Heilgman uses excerpts from letters, manuscripts and diaries to tell the story of the Darwins' marriage in their own words, and weaves Charles Darwin's domestic life into his theory of natural selection, showing how observing his own family shaped his ideas. The biography is accessible for readers with no prior knowledge of either natural selection or 19th Century British religion, yet engaging enough that no reader will find it dull. Though the creation/evolution debate is not as prevalent as it has been in the past, young readers will find it interesting to learn that Darwin himself struggled with this question. A bibliography is provided for further reading. Suitable for upper level junior high through high school readers.
DevourerOfBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Charles and Emma¿ is a well-researched biography of Darwin and his wife Emma. Their relationship was notable because, while he questioned the involvement of God in the workings of the natural world and developed his theory of evolution, she was a devout Christian. The book works through Charles and Emma¿s courtship and even provides glances back to their respective childhoods.This book is written for grades 8-12, but I think it might be more appropriate for grades 7-9. I was actually a bit confused about the intended age group because there are some difficult themes such as death - including the death of children. Some parents may consider Charles¿ questioning of God¿s role in the world an unsuitable theme for younger children as well. These aspects of the book would certainly point to a grades 8-12 audience, but at many times I felt that the writing was more at the level of a middle-grades book, 4th or 5th grade through 7th or 8th. There was simply a certain lack of sophistication in the writing that made the book seem more childish to me than something written for high schoolers. I do not believe this is due to a lack of skill on the part of the author but because she seems to have primarily written nonfiction for grade school children. This style carried over into ¿Charles and Emma¿ perhaps a bit too much, making it somewhat juvenile for most high schoolers to read for pleasure.That being said, ¿Charles and Emma¿ is very clear and well-researched and would make a fantastic source for a report on Darwin for students up through high school. They may not be enamoured of the writing, but they will find good, solid information. Middle school or even mature upper-elementary students with an interest in Darwin could definitely read this for pleasure. Heiligman did a fantastic job being very even-handed with both science and religion and was not dogmatic in either direction, which should give easy to many parents.Adults, don¿t run out and buy this for yourselves, but it may be interesting for some children in your life.
lalawe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A sweet biography and romance - a romance where the characters grow in love through marriage. It's amazing that despite all the obstacles - his illness, family tragedy, and the fear of how his work would be received - he managed to formulate and write down natural selection. Their respect for each other, despite their fundamental religious differences, is inspiring.
ewyatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a fascinating look into the love story and the conflict between religion and science in the relationship of Charles and Emma Darwin. Darwin's work ethic was incredible in the face of frequently illness and poor health. Emma was deeply religious, relying on her Christian faith and belief in heaven as a way of coping with the death of her beloved sister at an early age. Tracing how Darwin developed his theory of the origin of the species and how he coped with his complex feelings about religion, especially in light of his deep love for Emma.
santli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book to provide young adult readers interested in the intersection between science and faith. As a biography, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the family life of Charles Darwin, showing how his wife's faith in God no doubt impacted the process he went through to arrive at his theory of evolution. While the subject material could prove to be heavy and biased, author Deborah Heiligman does an excellent job of maintinaing a lightness that never comes across as preachy. Furthermore, Charles and Emma provides young adults with an instructional (and interesting!) glimpse into what life was like in the mid-1800s. Helpful references to authors (Austen and Elliot), Victorian culture (children seen, not heard, women's place in a marriage), the scientific climate of the time and family life (mortality rate of babies and birthing conditions), all provide younger readers with an excellent context and understanding as they learn more about a fascinating figure from science.