Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. Henry Holt & Co. 2009. Review copy from publisher. YA Nonfiction. National Book Award finalist; on the shortlist for YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award.
About: Charles Darwin had faith in science; his wife, Emma Wedgwood, had faith in religion. Despite having opposite beliefs on the role of God in science as well as life after death, the two married and had a long, happy marriage of mutual support and love. How?
The Good: I adored this book! I love the look at real people in history, even it always makes historical fiction that much harder to read.
Darwin's research and writing process is presented in a way that makes sense to the non-scientist.
Darwin and Wedgwood (as well as their family and friends) left so much written documentation behind (books, journals, letters, notes) that Heiligman never guesses to thought process or motivation, footnoting the source for each he/she said/thought.
Because "how real people really lived" intrigues me (as opposed to "all Victorians thought and did thusly") I was especially interested in the details of housekeeping, in the most literal sense of the word. Here was not just a marriage full of love and respect; here, too, was a family that was warm, affectionate, supportive.
And I loved the message -- people can disagree and yet still love and respect each other. Darwin believed that God played no role in natural selection or evolution; Wedgwood (religious but not a literalist in her belief) disagreed. While they argued the point, it did not control their lives, their love, or their relationship. The trust was such that Wedgwood read and edited Darwin's work, noting what needed to be clearer to a nonscientific reader or more persuasive in supporting his arguments.
The good thing about a nonfiction book for young adults is that they are usually shorter than adult nonfiction. The bad thing is they are usually shorter than adult nonfiction. Often, in Charles and Emma, I was wanting more; more information on the family and friends of the Darwins. All those cousins, intermarrying! And all the rather impressive members of the Darwin/Wedgwood family. More information on the children. A modern theoretical diagnosis on what illnesses Darwin and his daughter Annie suffered from. What, if anything, they thought about social issues going on around them.
Because I read this is 2010, it's on my favorite books read in 2010 list. (see sidebar). Even tho it's a 2009 title.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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