Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith tends to be less contentious and more readable than one might imagine. Aside from a jacket illustration that pits silhouettes of an ape and Charles against a cross bearing Emma, the book is relatively free of such obnoxious notions.
The writing style is comfortable and does focus on the relationship of Charles, Emma and their families. At times the book reads like Jane Austen, but that only lends authenticity to the voice that Heiligman is determined to expose.
The Darwins lived in a very different world; one much more severe in terms of its tolerance for religious ambiguity. It was a world fraught with sickness, tragedy, and little medical science. As a result, lives that were hanging in the balance would be treated with over the counter medications today. Similarly, breakthroughs in the life sciences seemed years away.
Readers young and old should enjoy this book, but they must be prepared for a challenge. They must be prepared for an intellectual challenge that will serve to strengthen their beliefs as they reconcile God and science. And challenges are good. They help us deepen our understanding and commitment to the reasons that drive us as human beings.
The book focuses most of its energy on the relationship of Charles and Emma. To this end, it was most successful and entertaining. As a broader biographical work the book also gives the reader some perspective for the times in which the Darwins lived.
Perhaps the single most impressive accomplishment of Charles and Emma is that it is a biography about a great scientist that should interest girls. In true Jane Austen fashion the story is resolved.
My grandson still thinks Heiligman’s best efforts were Fun Dog Sun Dog. But then again, he’s only three. I kinda like it too, but I am imressed with anyone that can write well enough to please both of us.
4 out of 5
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