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

by Deborah Heiligman

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79011121,696 (3.93)28
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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While I enjoyed and appreciated this biography, I am not sure that it will have great appeal to young adults without a good deal of promotion or previous interest. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
I was really enjoying this for about the first half, and then it somehow changed a little and I found myself losing interest in the people. After that it felt more of a regurgitation of facts than the love story it was intended to be. I got it - they loved each other. That can only be said so many times in so many ways before it loses meaning. I love Darwin and his insatiable curiosity about life, and I did learn a lot, but other stuff just seemed to be random stuff thrown in to make it longer and didn't really connect with the main points. ( )
  Mirandalg14 | Oct 26, 2020 |
I started reading this curious book (a study of the Darwins' marriage written for teens?) on Darwin Day (February 12, 2016). I was interested in learning more about how they made their long and mixed-belief relationship work (throughout their 40+ years together, Charles was a sceptic and Emma was a believer). Turns out, it was the things that we already know make strong relationships: mutual respect, communication, love, open minds, trust, physical touch, shared goals. What a great story. The author considered titling this book Charles, Emma, and God: The Darwins at Home, which I think is just perfect.

Make sure to check out Creation, the fantastic film about Mr. and Mrs. Darwin starring married actors Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. ( )
  bibliothecarivs | Jul 11, 2020 |
Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith - Heiligman
Audio performance by Rosalyn Landor
4 stars

This biography is intended for a young adult audience. It is not overly complex, but it is surprisingly detailed. Many biographies for young people paint a rosy picture of their subjects, skimming over controversial details. This book is built around the controversial issue; Charles Darwin, his Theory of Evolution, and its effect on 19th century Christian theology. It is also the story of a marriage.

The book is not focussed on Darwin as a scientist or on his theory, although these things are clearly, if briefly, presented. It is solidly researched. I never thought the author was guilty of putting words into the mouths of her subjects. She quotes from diaries, letters, Darwin’s notebooks, and other publications. She gives explanatory historical context about the 19th century concerning transportation, medical practices, and social behavior that would definitely be helpful to a young reader.

This book is about Darwin’s personal and family life. It begins with his agonised decision about whether or not to marry. His approach was typically scientific and obsessive. He made a list of pros and cons. The number of objections exceeded the number of benefits. But, apparently, the evolutionary sexual drive to increase the species won out. He married his cousin. They had ten children. They lost three of them in childhood.

The book’s subtitle reflects the author’s attention to an ever present factor of the Darwin marriage. Emma Darwin was a religious woman. Even before the marriage, at the time of his proposal, Charles has significant religious doubts. He did not attempt to disguise his opinions, but he was also sensitive, and very anxious, over the distress his beliefs would cause his future wife. (Later, he agonized over the explosive effect the publication of his theory would have among the scientific and religious communities.) Using letters and diary entries, Heiligman demonstrates that the couple continued an open and respectful theological debate throughout their marriage. To all appearances they had a long and happy marriage. ( )
  msjudy | Apr 27, 2019 |
This book is a biography of Charles and Emma Darwin, giving each about equal weight. It gives the Darwin's family life about equal weight w/ Darwin's scientific work. This is a fine structure, and works well since both Charles and Emma left a lot of written matter behind them, suitable for the biographer. I have read a few Darwin books by now, and this is the first to discuss the origins of Emma's devoutness, attributing it in part to the death of her closest sister as an adult. It also follows the Darwins through many infant and child deaths, not just those of their own children but also of the children of their close friends, like the Huxleys and the Hookers. These deaths were a fact of Victorian life, and it is reasonable to remember it.

Darwin, being a big softy, was distressed by his wife's suffering during childbirth. He couldn't ignore it. The fourth time, he actually used the new wonder drug, chloroform, to knock Emma out, and was delighted to have spared her so much pain. But it _never_ occurred to him to reduce her pain and make it more likely that she wouldn't die on him, by actually choosing to avoid pregnancy. It's facts like these, that 200 years ago an intelligent, empathetic person couldn't even think of saving the life of someone he cared deeply for and relied on by avoiding a pregnancy, that makes us so grateful for the courageous contraception advocates like Margaret Sanger. Theirs was an uphill battle, alright, and it's still going on today, witness the death threats against Melinda Gates. ( )
  themulhern | Dec 31, 2018 |
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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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