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Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith Hardcover – January 6, 2009
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Starred Review. Grade 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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* When the book opens, Charles Darwin is trying to make a decision, and he is doing so in time-honored fashion: drawing a line down a piece of paper and putting the pros of marriage on one side and the cons on the other. As much as Darwin is interested in wedded life, he is afraid that family life will take him away from the revolutionary work he is doing on the evolution of species. However, the pluses triumph, and he finds the perfect mate in his first-cousin Emma, who becomes his comforter, editor, mother of his 10 children—and sparring partner. Although highly congenial, Charles and Emma were on opposite sides when it came to the role of God in creation. Heiligman uses the Darwin family letters and papers to craft a full-bodied look at the personal influences that shaped Charles’ life as he worked mightily to shape his theories. 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. Occasionally hard to follow, in part because of the many characters (the family tree helps), this is well sourced and mostly fascinating, and may attract a wider audience than those interested in science. Austen fans will find a romance to like here, too. To be illustrated with photographs. Grades 8-12. --Ilene Cooper
Top customer reviews
As a fan of science writing, biography, historical settings, and young adult literature, I felt like Charles and Emma was written just for me. The religious issues along with the romantic aspects brought drama to what might have otherwise been a traditional biography. The religious and romantic elements might also move some fiction readers toward nonfiction. Many adult biographies can be academic and dry, so I enjoyed the simple language, conversational style, and topical emphasis of this book written for young adults. I don't normally think of biographies as "page turners," but the story was a really "quick read."
Heiligman wove interesting primary source materials and stories into the book. I particularly enjoyed the "to marry" and "no to marry" list. I could relate to this very analytical approach. I could also connect to his obsession with "knowing everything" about a particular topic such as his species studies.
Combining the stories of Charles and Emma made the book unique. As I read the story I wondered about the impact of spouses on other scientists. I'd like to see other books taking this approach to biography.
So much of YA literature focuses on realistic fiction (teen angst and melodrama) and fantasy (vampires, werewolves, dystopia) that it's great to see a book written for nerdy teens like I was! In publisher's quest for "high profit" books, they often forget that there's a market for engaging biographies, readable nonfiction, and quality storytelling outside traditional fiction categories. This book will never get the readership of the Twilight series, but there are teens in the world that aspire to be naturalists, scientists, and scholars that are thirsty for books like this.
One sign of an exceptional book is the degree to which I think about the book later. Darwin seems to be everywhere I look. Darwin's 200th birthday was Feb 12 2010.
I've always respected Charles Darwin for the many years he spent researching and reflecting on his theories before publishing. He truly wanted to "get it right." His approach to science and the development of arguments is a great example of critical thinking.
There are some great websites devoted to his work. You can also visit Darwin's countryside on Google Earth. For a great overview with images go to http://www.darwinday.org/learn/
Want to learn more? Go to http://www.darwinday.org/
Beyond the book...
I think it's important to introduce biography and Charles Darwin to children. For younger readers, I'd suggest the beautifully illustrated picture book "One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin" by Kathryn Lasky as a great introduction to Charles Darwin.
For teens who enjoy this book, I'd recommend moving into quality adult nonfiction such as Erick Larson's The Devil in the White City, Isaac's Storm, or Thunderstruck.
I enjoy reading about naturalists from the 1500s through the 1900s. For an engaging biography that takes place in the late 1600s, read "A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier" by Diana Preston.
The biographies of Linda Lear would be a great way to introduce young adults scholars to adult literature. Read Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature or Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.
Okay, so now you know I'm a nerd. We need more nerds in the world!
The author also has a theater version of the book on her website, which was perfect for differentiation for english language learners or reading disabilities.
What also comes through is the author's sympathy for two people of such opposing views, who somehow manage to come together and actually thrive. It really is a testament to the strength of their love when you read about their many struggles and heartbreaks within their own family. It's biography at it's best.
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