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Book: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
Genre(s): Biography (Nonfiction, Informational)
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 272 pages
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, 2010

Charles and Emma book cover

Summary: Unlike the typical biography, this one focuses on not just the famous figure of Charles Darwin, but on his relationship with his wife, and how that affected Darwin’s work, giving him an emotional bedrock to soothe his soul as well as an in-house sparring partner to argue his views on God and nature. One gets to observe the process by which a scientist is made, not just by his research and observations, but also by his life and family experiences. Well-researched and meticulous, Heiligman’s conversational tone imparts much knowledge while satisfying those with a yen for story — the story of the Darwins’ great love. The older teen (and adult) will be fascinated at how Charles and Emma discuss and negotiate their theological differences while anchoring each other and maintaining a loving home for their ten children.

To whom will this appeal?: This book will appeal as much to the lover of historical fiction as to the follower of science. Those looking for “just the facts” may not go for the book, as its pace is as leisurely as many a novel, but those fascinated by the details of everyday life, especially everyday Victorian life, will be in for a treat. Those interested either in the romantic story of Charles and Emma’s love and family life or in the way Darwin’s scientific theories and religious views evolved and solidified over time will be intrigued by this book. While marketed for teens, this book has a strong draw for the adult biography-philes as well.

July 2020