Charles and Emma

When people think of Charles Darwin they usually think of natural selection, or the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. Deborah Heiligman’s biography Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, deals with a side of Darwin that most people do not know, his relationship with his wife.

The book, which is aimed at high school students, begins with Darwin making a list of pros and cons about marriage. Should he or shouldn’t he? That is the tough question Charles Darwin must answer. Marriage would provide a stable house and his wife could cook and clean for him while he focuses on his scientific research, but the obligations that come with having a wife could severely impact his ability to conduct his scientific research.

When he meets his first-cousin, Emma, he decides he should. With Emma he gained a wife who would bear him ten (wow!) children and a debate partner. Darwin was making huge discoveries in the field of evolution at a time when most of the population was extremely religious, including Darwin’s wife.

With the publication of his work, The Origin of Species, Darwin started a debate that continues on to this day. Evolution vs Creationism. What should be taught in our schools? Is Evolution real? These are questions that are still fought over more than 150 years after the book was published.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, explores this debate in the Darwin household. Charles was discovering things that challenged Emma’s beliefs; his evolution theory went against the creation story in the bible. Emma’s beliefs had a significant impact on Charles’ work, and this book shows the reader how much her thoughts and opinions mattered.

This thought provoking book deals not only with the struggle over evolution vs religious beliefs, but marriage struggles and how even if you have conflicting viewpoints you can still have a happy marriage if you have respect for each other’s ideas.

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