Saturday, January 17, 2009

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
Here's the synopsis and starred review from Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. "This rewarding biography of Charles Darwin investigates his marriage to his cousin Emma Wedgwood. Heiligman (the Holidays Around the World series) has good reason for this unusual approach: as deeply as they loved each other, Emma believed in God, and Charles believed in reason. Embracing the paradoxes in her subjects' personalities, the author unfolds a sympathetic and illuminating account, bolstered by quotations from their personal writings as well as significant research into the historical context. We meet Charles as he weighs the pros and cons of wedded life—but then seeks his father's advice (Darwin père urges him to conceal his religious doubts); Emma becomes a more fervent believer after the death of her favorite (and more religious) sister. Heiligman writes for motivated readers, and her style can be discursive (mention of a letter can introduce a few sentences on the British postal system). Her book allows readers not only to understand Darwin's ideas, but to appreciate how Emma's responses tempered them." Bold emphasis is mine. I worked my way through these pages stopping often to search out other resources. The discursive style noted by Elsevier is present throughout the book. Jonathan Weiner notes in the Foreward "The story of Darwin has never been told this way before..." There are many books to inform the curious student about Darwin, the styles and format rich and varied. Here are just a few.


Patti Sylvester Spencer said...

...a unique blend of romance, scientific observations, explanations of medical practices prevalent in the early-nineteenth century, and opportunities to examine scientific discoveries and religious beliefs in detail. The book might be of particular use in interdisciplinary course work.

Kirkus Reviews said...

The narrative conveys a vivid sense of what life was like in Victorian England, particularly the high infant mortality rate that marred the Darwins' happiness and the challenges Charles faced in deciding to publish his controversial theory. While this book does not serve as an introduction to Darwin's life and ideas, readers wanting to know more will discover two brilliant thinkers whose marital dialectic will provide rich fodder for discussions of science and faith.