“Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith” by Deborah Heiligman

Charles and Emma Book Cover Charles and Emma
Deborah Heiligman
Juvenile Nonfiction
Ottawa
January 6, 2009
Hardcover
268
Library

Michael L Printz Honor Book 2010

 

Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary tract on evolution and the fundamental ideas involved, in 1859. Nearly 150 years later, the theory of evolution continues to create tension between the scientific and religious communities. Challenges about teaching the theory of evolution in schools occur annually all over the country. This same debate raged within Darwin himself, and played an important part in his marriage: his wife, Emma, was quite religious, and her faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on a theory that continues to spark intense debates.

Deborah Heiligman's new biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion for young readers.

Charles and Emma is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.

I didn’t dislike this book, but I couldn’t quite figure out why it was considered worthy of honor by the Printz Committee — or of any of the honors it received.

It was…fine? I learned quite a bit, actually, about Darwin’s work and how he came up with his ideas, which was quite interesting, but the writing didn’t feel all that spectacular to me.

I guess I found myself comparing it to another non-fiction book that won a lot of awards recently — “Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon” by Steve Sheinkin, and it did not hold up favorably. “Bomb” was a wonderful book — it was fast-paced, non-stop, and read like an adventure novel, but it was real!

“Charles and Emma” — it meandered and backtracked, and talked about a lot of minutiae. Maybe I just wasn’t crazy about the way in which the author wove in commentary from letters and journals — it all felt somewhat awkward and contrived.

I could tell that the author was very passionate about her subject, just as Darwin and his wife were passionate about their family, their love for each other, and the work that Darwin was doing. I guess it just wasn’t enough for me to really end up loving this book, too.