Charles and Emma

Author: Deborah Heiligman

Type: Non-fiction, single subject

Full title: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Published: 2009

I read it: January 2013

charles and emma

Having just finished reading the Origin, it was opportune to receive this book from my mom as a birthday present. It’s a lovely biography of Darwin which focuses on his personal life as much as on his scientific work. We get to know Charles and Emma quite well, along with the children and other family members. Charles was a sickly person, constantly under the weather, which makes his strong (almost fanatical) work ethic admirable. The couple were dealt crippling blows with the death of three children (out of ten total). Indeed, they were burying a young son on the day that Charles’ friends were reading the first joint Darwin-Wallace paper to the Linnaean Society.

The largest topic is the difference of religious belief between Charles and Emma. They were both forward-thinking individuals, and Charles was extremely reluctant to upset the status quo with his radical ideas. Emma helped act as editor and adviser, and since she maintained a belief in heaven and at least some form of Christian god, she was a appropriate first reader. It was sweet that the two could reconcile their differences and remain intellectually honest while at the same time sharing a life together. The book makes it clear that they while they were required to attend parties from time to time given their upper-class lifestyle, they each preferred home life and were loath to be the center of controversy surrounding Darwin’s work. That being said, Darwin at one point was receiving over 700 letters per year from both fans and critics alike, and he responded to almost every one of them.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the life of Charles Darwin. It apparently won an award for young adult non-fiction, which I did not even know was a genre. It would make a great addition to any family’s shelf.

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