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Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of…
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Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith (2009)

by Deborah Heiligman

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How do you balance science and faith? What happens when you add love to the mix? Can you love people with radically different opinions than your own? Charles and Emma avoids pat answers while giving a clear-eyed view of the romance between Charles Darwin and his wife Emma. Nonfiction for young adults is difficult; it has to be accessible and interesting without being condescending; a book about evolution is even more difficult. Heiligman manages her topicwell, as she assumes little background knowledge about Darwin or the theory of evolution and clarifies points without talking down to her readers. She clearly and concisely explains the social circumstances of the time period as well as key points of the theory of evolution while keeping the main focus of the book squarely on the Darwins. Readers hoping for an in-depth discussion of the theory of evolution or Darwin’s discoveries may be disappointed, as Heiligman confines herself brief overviews; the real strength lies in her exploration of the relationship of doubting Charles and religious Emma and how they loved each other deeply despite being divided about Charles’ discoveries. Endnotes and an extensive bibliography provide sources and further reading. Highly recommended for late middle school through adult. Somewhat conversational style makes it seem less academic than it really is, but never fear- Heigilman did her research. ( )
  kahansen | Sep 24, 2013 |
Charles and Emma the Darwin’s “Leap of Faith” is about the marriage between the Charles and Emma Darwin. The book covers Charles’s devolvement of the theory of evolution while trying to be respectful of his wife’s devout beliefs. Moreover, it covers Darwin’s attempt to reconcile his own thoughts concerning evolution and religion. Additionally, it is about the love story between Charles and Emma. I could use excerpts of this book in a lesson. I could partner with a Biology teacher to do a cross discipline lesson on the theory of evolution itself as well as it in an historical context.
Using a visual analysis of the text, there is a fair amount of made up material. The author ascribes thoughts and feelings to the characters, to make the story more interesting, that she could not know. There is a good deal of information in the book. The author did a lot of research as evidenced by the source notes and quotations in the text. The book structure is somewhat complex. It has chronology and topic organization. The book is fairly narrative as it tells the story of Charles and Emma’s life together. It is somewhat expository as it communicates Darwin’s theories. Heiligman uses some literary devices such as diction and occasionally metaphors. I feel the book has a strong author’s voice. It felt like the book had a distinct storyteller. There was a minimal amount of front matter but there was an abundant amount of back matter. There was a forward in the front of the book. In the back of the book there was an epilogue, source notes, questions, and much besides. There was not a very large amount of visual material. However, there were images and photographs of people and places mentioned in the book. There was also a family tree. So I can’t say that there was not some visual material. Nonetheless, it was primarily after the main text so I’m not sure if it should be counted. ( )
  Areamatha | May 9, 2013 |
My “VOYA” Rating: 4Q, 2P

Charles and Emma opens up with Charles debating on whether or not he should get married. His list of reasons to marry or not marry is filled with his fear of loosing his freedom, individuality, and chances to continue his life of studying and traveling. Darwin decides that he will get married because his list of positives outweighs the negatives. Charles marries his cousin Emma. This story of their love and respect for each other, the compromises that each of them make and the opposing views on religion and evolution is researched and written so well.

This book was really about science and faith and the part it played in the Darwins’ relationship. The author does an amazing job of constructing a book that provides a rather intimate lens of Darwin’s everyday life, relationship with his family, wife, and children. She also provides her audience with a view of Darwin’s internal struggle of how he spent 15 years debating whether or not to publish his work and his wife’s role in helping him with his work.

I like the more intimate view of Darwin. It made this book much more accessible and gave me tidbits of information that I would of never of sought out on my own. I am not so sure how accessible this book would be to a YA audience. I think it would be one of the ones that instructors would have to push on their students. (Although, the romance aspect may grab a few more than expected.) ( )
  cfranson | May 8, 2013 |
This book was an enjoyable read, especially for one who likes to read fictional novels but also likes accurate depictions of specific cultures, historic events, or philosophies of different religions. This book was very well researched and used many of the correspondences written between Charles and Emma throughout their relationship. I like how the book was a very human depiction of Darwin, especially with how much scrutiny and disdain his theories have received throughout the years. It showed how truly human he was in his struggles with religion and discovery of love and also with his own beliefs. It showed that he was not simply a hater of Christianity devoting his life to disproving beliefs or overturning long held scientific and creationist ideology, rather a person who was reluctant to publish his findings based on the amount of scrutiny he would receive for his work.
The book did seem a bit long and drawn out; honestly boring in some aspects. However, I did like how it was chronological and gave a more or less overview of Darwin’s personal life and struggles. He has never been one that has had his personal life talked about, and this book did a good job. It definitely gave some perspective on “the woman behind the man,” and allows one to see his decision making process of why his academic went in the direction it did with the influences his wife had on him in his personal life.
  AaronPendleton | May 6, 2013 |
Heiligman has written a thoroughly researched account of the relationship-with it's ups and downs-of Charles and Emma Darwin. While most people know the naturalist for being one of the first to put forth the theory of evolution, many are likely unfamiliar with the turbulence it caused in his marriage. His wife Emma was devoutly Christian and afraid that his assertions on the scientific changes undergone by different species would land him a place in hell. I found this somewhat funny, as the book says that Emma did not believe in the Christian doctrine of hypostases, or the belief in three people in one God, the basic tennant of the Christian faith.

I did not particaularly care for this book-Darwin's importance in history is his "Origin of Species," and he did not really let his wife's worries change his mind about publishing (although he did wait quite a long time to publish), so I'm not sure why his wife's faith would be of any consequence to any one today. That being said, it is very obvious that Heiligman did an exhaustive amount of research, and the book is well written. Technically, I have no issues with the book; my complaints come from topic. ( )
  Mols1 | May 3, 2013 |
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... she [Emma] wrote, "The sincerity of showing yourself as you really are.  The real good it would do the world not to have artificial sins." (163)
Charles had written in one of his notebooks, "Definition of happiness the number of pleasant ideas passing through mind in given time."  Now he found happiness not just in his mind; he found it in real life. (93)
They borrowed some novels from the library, starting a lifelong tradition of reading together--usually Emma read to Charles while he rested from his work.  Charles liked novels with happy endings, and he once wrote, "I often bless all novelists.  A surprising number have been read aloud to me... and I like all if moderately good, and passed.  A novel, according to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if it be a pretty woman all the better." (91)
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Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma, were deeply in love and very supportive of each other, but their opinions often clashed. Emma was extremely religious, and Charles questioned God's very existence.

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