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Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  7,316 ratings  ·  1,106 reviews
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 rage ...more
Hardcover, 268 pages
Published December 23rd 2008 by Henry Holt & Company
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 ·  7,316 ratings  ·  1,106 reviews

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May 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in religion, science, and Charles Darwin
I picked up this book mostly because Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith is both the National Book Award and Printz runner-up. I don't know if it's because my expectations were too high or because this book is my first YA non-fiction, but I wasn't as wild about it as I expected to be.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith is basically a story of Charles Darwin's marriage to his religious wife, which, keeping in mind that Darwin was a founder of the theory of natural selection, is
Jun 28, 2009 rated it liked it
I wanted to rate this book higher, but the more I considered its qualities, the more I opted for liking rather than really liking. Numerous parts of this book were highly interesting, and some I found quite moving; but two features kept getting in the way of an overall very satisfying reading experience for me. One was Heiligman's seeming desire to work in every tidbit about the Darwins that struck her as interesting, even if that bit of information ended up being obtrusive to the forward moveme ...more
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I actually really enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected. I found it well researched and just a great short read. Can you imagine how difficult and the personal berating Darwin had to have went through when he was having the internal debate of his work going public? Some still find his work controversial (even though it is widely accepted) so can you imagine how it was taken when it first went out into the world. Anyways, I found the story entertaining and a delivery of the story was done ...more
Apr 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
While this targets young adults, it's appropriate for any adult who is interested in Darwin and/or his theory of evolution but doesn't want a heavy read. I've read quite a bit about Darwin, but still enjoyed this book (and I learned a little more). Especially well-done is the way Heiligman handled the tension between the Darwins about the connection between science and religion. There are many quotes from CD's books, letters, and notes, all of which contribute to an understanding of the man.

I ma
Dov Zeller
This book isn't fantastic, but it's good. An enjoyable description of the Darwins as a family. Though they had their fair share of illness, loss and struggle, they seem an uncommonly happy family. They had an uncanny ability for finding joy in each other and in their work.

It is strange to read about the family and to know there are butlers, maids, servants of various kinds running around, doing a lot of work, and barely acknowledged, though at least some of them named. I guess is is just part o
May 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I had no interest in either Charles Darwin or his wife before reading this book, but Heiligman's biography kept me riveted from start to finish. Darwin took a very pragmatic approach to marriage, compiling a list of pros and cons, before he decided to take the step that would radically change--and improve--his life; and did this before he decided on the woman! Emma Wedgwood was a deeply religious person and Darwin, her cousin, had embarked on a course of biological study that caused him serious ...more
Jun 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Starting my career as a science teacher, I have always been fascinated with Darwin's work. I did not know much about his personal life, though. I enjoyed learning about the Darwins, their marriage and family life, and the tension they both felt about reconciling their religious beliefs with his scientific discoveries. ...more
Mar 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
It was interesting to get a behind the scenes look at Darwin's career, but that's the only thing I really liked about it. I didn't want to give it too low a rating because most of the things I didn't like are based on personal preferences. The rating is based on the fact that it doesn't deliver what it promises.

I read a few synopses for Charles and Emma over the past few years. They all say it’s about the conflict between Charles’ theory of evolution and Emma’s belief in Christianity. That does
It did take a bit to get into, but, yes, it's a biography, not a story. Now 2/3 through and enjoying it very much. Lots of passages marked.

I'm really hoping that more is answered about how this unlikely couple manage to get along so well. They are often ill, and they lose children, and keep having more... all those stresses on top of being one devoutly Christian and one Materialist... oh my. Maybe: the closer one is to another, the more ready one is to respect their opinions and see them as wort
Aug 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I never thought a book about Charles Darwin's personal life would make me cry, but there it is. This is a great book about Charles and Emma's marriage: their closeness, their love for their children and grandchildren, and their differing views on religion. Charles was an agnostic; Emma was a Christian (though Heiligman does observe that Emma had her own dissenting views: she did not believe in the Holy Trinity, did not think every part of the Bible was literally true, and confessed to one of her ...more
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: informational
Name: Josephine Wold

APA Citation: Heiligman, D. (2009). Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ leap of faith. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Genre: informational

Award: 2009 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Finalist
2010 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
L.A. Time Book Prize Finalist
Winner of the 2010 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award

Format: Print

Selection process:
1) Starred review by Booklist. Reviews by School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews
2) 2009 National Book Award for Young Peopl
Brian Eshleman
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
It is disconcerting to my unspoken preconceptions that one can be likable, curious, enthusiastic, humble in most respects, and a great husband and parent all while defying the Gospel one knows better than most believers in it. Nevertheless, I should not be surprised at these descriptors of Charles Darwin as he comes across on these pages. Jesus said, did He not that we, evil apart from His intervention, know how to give good gifts to our children?

The author does a good job conveying the combinat
Jessica (The Psychotic Nerd)
This and other reviews can be found on The Psychotic Nerd

Short and Simple Review
This book was really out of my comfort zone. I don't really read biographies, but I challenged myself to read all of the Printz award winners and this book came recommended by my YA lit teacher a while back. I had to change the way I typically read books because I found when reading this book that I need to take more breaks than when reading fiction. Even though I kind of slugged my way through this book, I ende
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this for book group but won't be there to discuss, darn it. It was interesting! I didn't know a thing about Darwin except for his famous theory. He did not believe in a God (I'm sure you all knew that) but his wife was very religious. He debated keeping his feelings a secret from her before they married, but didn't. They had a really beautiful and happy marriage with a ton of kids, 3 of whom died. He was a very loving and dedicated father. Darwin was sick almost all of time until he got o ...more
Interesting view into Darwin’s life and the struggles he faced.

I think life is just easier if you have a companion beside you to help you all the way.

I love how it talked about him really thinking through weighty life decisions and not just jumping blindly and half-hazardly into major life choices.
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I never thought I would read a biography about Charles Darwin (I'm not keen on literary non-fiction), much less cry buckets over one and want to sleep with it under my pillow. The book is "Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith" by Deborah Heiligman. To boot, I now have a raving admiration and crush on Charles Darwin, he who spent his life studying barnacles and finches and chimps in the London zoo (en route to revolutionizing everything we know about the world). But so much more than a bi ...more
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-booklist
I loved this story so much and I am so impressed with the relationship between Charles and Emma Darwin. The writing wasn’t amazing but I have to give it 5 stars for the emotions I felt and the loveliness if the experience.
I enjoyed this book - it wasn't gripping, but it was good enough to hold my interest. Heiligman takes a new look at Charles Darwin via his marriage to Emma Wedgwood (of the Wedgwood pottery family). The author clearly read through hundreds of documents and THOUSANDS of letters to pull this story together. Charles and Emma did not have a long courtship, but were deeply in love from the beginning of their marriage of almost 50 years. The book really highlights the religious contexts of the time an ...more
Nicole Lindsey
Sep 18, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: english-420
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jessica Broadhead
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
A thoughtful and balanced account of the marriage between Charles Darwin and his wife Emma. Can I just say that Darwin fascinates me? I’ve been interested in him ever since I read The Beak of the Finch, which mostly deals with the scientists who proved his theory — using Galapagos finches, no less — but touches on Darwin himself and the voyage that, in part, set him on his path. What really struck me was how he worried himself sick over his own ideas — not because he thought they were wrong, but ...more
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: engl-420-ya-lit
"Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith" is the story of the relationship between Charles Darwin and his family, particularly his religiously devout wife Emma. The book's stated purpose is to illustrate the balance the couple achieved between the religious and the scientific. I personally found the intentions of the book to be greater than its ability to deliver. The writing throughout suffers from a misunderstanding of its audience. Though it is aimed at the YA crowd, I think the
Jan 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: award-winners
A charming portrait of the marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin. Charles Darwin was an interesting person just on his own: tormented by his scientific finds and that they might show that God had no hand in creation, horrified by the idea that he might offend anyone (particularly his family) when he published his theories and troubled by poor health (probably brought on by stress and anxiety attacks). Nevertheless, his marriage to Emma, a staunch believer in God and religion, was one of great love ...more
Jun 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a biography of Charles Darwin and his wife Emma. I wouldn't have thought that I'd like it, but so many people were talking it up I gave it a try and I really enjoyed it. The relationship between this scientist who didn't believe in God and his very religious wife makes for a great parallel to the larger controversy between science and certain religious communities.

Interesting side note: when I booktalked this book at the middle school in Maple Valley, very few students knew who Darwin wa
Iosephvs Bibliothecarivs
I started reading this curious book (a study of the Darwins' marriage written for teens?) on Darwin Day (February 12, 2016). I was interested in learning more about how they made their long and mixed-belief relationship work (throughout their 40+ years together, Charles was a sceptic and Emma was a believer). Turns out, it was the things that we already know make strong relationships: mutual respect, communication, love, open minds, trust, physical touch, shared goals. What a great story. The au ...more
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fascinating view of Charles and Emma Darwin's courtship and marriage. Emma was very religious but Charles considered himself a non-believer because he could not reconcile his research with the religious beliefs of the day. And the religious views of the day were quite literal, without room for disagreement, and, honestly, quite horrible. It is ironic that Darwin had to choose between religion and science because society and the church could not accept both, but now religious people can agree w ...more
May 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
I found this in the young adult section of the library. A fascinating look into 19th century life in general, and into a happy marriage in particular. Darwin married his first cousin, had ten children (seven survived), and worked productively throughout a lifetime of illness and pain. That is the part that impressed me the most. How could he work through ill health? How could he have worked with all those unruly kids running around and jumping on the couch? I guess it helped to have inherited mo ...more
Adrienne Pettinelli
What a life the Darwins lived! Charles and Emma's devotion to each other is as inspirational as Charles's devotion to science, and I love how Heiligman weaved so much about science, religion, and Victorian society into their story while keeping the pace of the book moving along. I feel like anyone who loves a good story will love this book, but it's especially good for readers who are interested in history, science, or the Victorians. Or, like me, all three. ...more
Lana Shupe
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Audio version kept me company while doing housework over last few days. An absolutely beautiful telling of a wonderful love story. Charles and Emma Darwin loved each other with gentleness, compassion and support. They suffered great sorrow and loss and still maintained their ability to love through all.
Feb 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the best nonfiction books I read last year! Love the detail, the voices, and the mix of personal and scientific information. I thought this was a 2008 publication and eligible for awards this past year, but we are going to have to wait until next year for this book to receive its due.
Apr 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this story, but I may have been biased because of my love of Darwin's story and science in general. I admire Charles and Emma's philosophies and lives. They were a kind and thoughtful couple who wanted the best for everyone. I liked the way their families were open and children were allowed to voice opinions and have their own thoughts. They were progressive in a time when most people of their class were oppressing labor and endorsing slavery and barely seeing their children. I liked h ...more
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Deborah Heiligman has been writing for children since she worked at Scholastic News soon after college. Since then she has written more than thirty books for children and teens. Her books include picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, and young adult nonfiction and fiction. Some titles: Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, a National Book Award finalist; The Boy Who Loved Math: The I ...more

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