Rummanah Aasi
      I picked this book up for mainly two reasons. One: This book has won numerous awards for YA literature such as the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, Printz Honor Book, and a National Book Award Nominee. Two: I know next to nothing about Darwin besides his evolution theory. After reading this book, I can understand why this book received so much acclaim.

Description: A unique biography of Charles Darwin that focuses on how his work has affected his personal life, such as his relationship with his religious wife and his contemporaries.

Review: I found “Charles and Emma” to be a very readable book. As the book opens, Darwin is trying to make a decision about marriage, and he is doing so by making a pro and cons list. In this list, readers are shown two sides of Darwin that they which may or may not be familiar. On one side Darwin, the scientist, is taking into consideration the time he will lose from his revolutionary work. On the other side, Darwin, the man, realizes that he is not getting any younger and would not like to spend the rest of his days alone. Thus, his search for a suitable wife starts. He finds his perfect match with his cousin, Emma, who not only becomes his comforter, best friend, editor, mother of his 10 children, but also an opposing force. Although Charles and Emma got along very well and loved each other very much, they were on the opposite sides when it came to the role of God in creation. Emma was a very religious leader who feared her husband’s lack of faith would not allow him to follow her to heaven when they died.
      The book shines when religion and science intersect. Readers will also get a feeling about what it was like to live in Victorian England by experiencing the illness and death the Darwin family faces. Through the uses of the Darwin family letters and papers, the author is able to create a biography in which the reader can really see the vulnerable Darwin who struggles with his doubts of faith as well as get a glimpse of the many different personal influences that shaped Charles’ life as he worked very hard to form his theories. I found the photographs to be fascinating. This would be an excellent source for students to use if they were to research about Darwin and his personal life because it contains both primary and secondary sources. Readers who arent’ interested in science or Darwin’s theology will find an Austen-like romance. I would recommend this book for 12 yrs old and up.

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: None. I found this book to be a very clean, readable, and organized biography.

Curriculum Connection:

If you like this book, try: I am Scout by Charles Shields
4 Responses
  1. Ms. Dhruv Says:

    Thanks for the suggestion! I just read it, and could not put it down. It really made me think, and when you think about the fact that his Origin of Species was published in 1859, and his book is still relevant 150 years later, is absolutely amazing. His love story with Emma was beautiful, plus her support in his endeavors probably made one the most important discoveries, so without Emma, the theory of evolution may never have been found! I really enjoyed the story, plus am reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (in which she is observing nature and thinking about selection in a 12 year old way). Great set of books to read together (at least to me).


  2. I haven't read "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" yet, but it's on my list to read.


  3. I adored this book. It was a lovely portrayal of Darwin as a scientist, a husband, father and as a great intellectual and humanitarian of his age.
    I think readers of every age will be pleasantly surprised at what an exciting life he lead. And its perfect for students learning about history, especially because this book pulls so much from primary sources such as the hand-written letters.


  4. I strongly agree, ChicanaRiquena! I'm not a big reader of nonfiction and I was worried that this book would read like a textbook (i.e. dry with lots of facts), but was proven wrong. I found Darwin and Emma's relationship very interesting, especially when their beliefs were polar opposites.


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