Debra Heiligman captured the kind, subtle, and gentle side of Charles Darwin allowing the reader to better understand the man behind the controversial theory of evolution, and how his struggle between God and science made him suffer more than most people know. In this book, the journey around the world aboard The Beagle that led Darwin to his numerous discoveries by studying the hundreds of specimens he collected was only the backdrop. More importantly was his discovery of Emma, the love of his life, and how she helped in countless ways bring to light one of the most influential scientists in history. It was through their love and dedication to one another that Charles was able to write for over 30 years about natural selection and publish numerous books, most notably The Origin of Species and The Decent of Man.
Heiligman's book is written about the love affair between Charles and Emma, and how her faith in God and his faith in science would often break both of their hearts (as demonstrated through numerous letter excerpts) but would not keep them apart. She nursed him most of their marriage, for he was often ill with stomach problems, and she edited his books for content and quite often for spelling errors. They were a wonderful team and led a happy life together with their children. This poignant book reveals many emotions Charles Darwin had ranging from dread and worry about marriage, to the unrecoverable sadness caused by the death of two their beloved children. It also revealed a humorous side to Darwin and showed what a lovable father he was.
I think this book, although it is written and published with a young adult audience in mind, will be far better received by adults mostly due to the meticulous details and research Heiligman put forth. I was quite sad when Charles died, even though I knew it was coming, because I felt such a connection to both he and Emma by the end of the book. There will always be the debate of science vs. religion, but the Darwins are a wonderful example of how we can all live harmoniously through dignified debate and discussions with respect from both sides. I recommend this book, and would love to hear from anyone who has read it.