Saturday, March 6, 2010

Book Review: Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

Charles and Emma seem like two very different people.  Charles Darwin is a tidy, scientific naturalist, always doing experiments with plants and studying animals.  Emma Wedgwood is a messy, religious woman, happy to remain at home and take care of her aging father and mother.  When Charles decides to take a leap and ask Emma to marry him, neither one could anticipate just how much they would come to mean to each other, or just how they would resolve their religious and moral differences.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Things I Liked:
I loved reading a biography of Charles Darwin that talked about his wife!  I thought it was very intriguing to see how much they disagreed on the subject of God and his role in the creation and in their daily lives.  I also thought it was very interesting to read about the kinds of difficulties Charles felt while trying to sort out and publish his ideas on natural selection. 
I am both a religious and a scientific person (I studied physics and astronomy before I became a librarian) and I was particularly interested in Charles' friend Asa Gray's views on reconciling those two seemingly conflicting beliefs.  The book offers such a unique look at how people dealt with those kinds of discrepancies back then and probably still applies to many people today.  Reading about how both Charles and Emma interacted with their children and dealt with grief was much more interesting to me, however, than reading Darwin's work on natural selection or worms.  The relationship between them was very touching, despite their differences.

Things I Didn't Like:
I wish there had been more about Emma.  I kept wanting to know if she would discuss religion and God with Charles often or if she just let him take his own path.  We didn't get a lot of insight into her, but what we did see was intriguing.  I had to laugh a bit at the arrogance in this statement:
"In The Origin, Charles wasn't trying to murder Emma's God; he was trying to show how he believed creation really occurred.  He knew he was right." (p 182).  He wasn't generally arrogant (at least that wasn't the impression I got from the biography), but this statement just made me want to laugh a bit.  I also found it highly ironic that he would often use phrases like "Thank God" in his letters - who did he think he was thanking?  I'm sure he was just using common phrases of the time, but I wonder if it ever struck him how humorous it was to use such phrases and not really believe in a God.


I kept thinking of Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
A bit like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
It also made me interested in picking up Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle

s-factor: !
a very few

mrg-factor: X
a couple of suggestive parts

v-factor: none

Overall rating: ****

If you are a religious person, do you ever struggle to reconcile your religious beliefs with science?
If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. I really enjoyed this book - I loved finding out more about Emma Darwin. I read it just before I read Calpurnia Tate, and I think they make excellent read-togethers!

  2. This does sound interesting! I feel like I've seen a preview recently for a movie about the relationship between Darwin and his wife - wonder if it's related to this book at all.

  3. I am really intrigued by this book. I would love to know more about these two. Thanks for bringing it across my radar!

  4. I've been wanting to read this one since I first heard of it last year. It sounds fantastic.

  5. Caroline, I think they would be fun to read closer together; it's been a while since I read Calpurnia.

    Dana, a movie would be so cool! They led such interesting lives.

    Amused, I hope you manage to pick it up!

    Bookshelf Monstrosity, it is definitely fantastic.

  6. I think there is a film, called Creation, which must be either based on the book or cover similar material.

    And to bravely answer the question you put: I am a (mildly) religious person but I rarely struggle to reconcile my Christian beliefs with science. The biggest struggle, I find, is to deal with the labels others so often want to put on you as soon as they know you have a belief of any kind (more about their prejudices I feel, since it rarely bears any resemblance to anything I actually believe) -- and all those, on both sides, who persist in seeing science and religion as an "either/or" choice.

    OK, stepping off soapbox now.

  7. Andie, thanks for answering! I agree completely with the problem of being labeled something according to what you believe. I don't have any problems reconciling my beliefs with science either. Maybe it is more about what other people think...


Love it when you comment!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Copyright © melissa of One Librarian's Book Reviews 2008-2015