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Non-Fiction Monday: Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
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proseandkahn
 
Unabridged audiobook on 6 compact discs, 7 hours, 38 minutes. Read by Rosalyn Landor. Random House/ Listening Library, 2009.

Alrighty then. Here is my post - take two. One of the frustrations that I have with LiveJournal is its propensity to randomly log me out WITH NO WARNING!! You would think that I would learn, by now to copy my posts before hitting that "publish" button, but no-ooh! I. Am. An. Idiot! Two hours worth of work just went down the drain at the click of the enter key. There is no undo. The only time LJ saves from a draft is if I just started the post, not if I am editing a "just for me" post. Gr-r-r-r!

Anyway, I have had this book on my tbr pile forever. In fact, my copy does not have the three, well-deserved shiny award stickers on the front cover. In fact, I didn't read my copy, I found the audiobook at my favorite public library and read with my ears. Although I did go back and reread selected sections. 

I feel like I know Charles Darwin fairly well, since I've read a number of biographies since the bicentennial of his birth. Most of those focus on the years he spent aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, however. This one is a biography of the Darwin's marriage. 

It opens with his famous list weighing the pros and cons of marriage. Modern, young readers might have a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact that Charles didn't even have a girlfriend at the time he decided to marry, "QED." They may even have a hard time contemplating the fact that he married his cousin. Heiligman provides plenty of historical context as explanation. 

To me, this was less a biography, than a love story. No. That's not right. It was a bona fide biography that read like a love story. But not a modern love story with twisty turns and angst. There were tragedies, to be sure. But the only thing that ever threatened to come between Charles and Emma was his revolutionary theory of evolution. Emma, devoutly religious, feared for Charles' soul. Charles did not want to hurt Emma or his family by publicizing his theory.

I read with my ears and enjoyed Rosalyn Landor's performance. I did reread large portions of the book as well. The narrative is unbroken by sidebars. Just 8 or so pages of black and white photos are inserted a little past the halfway point of the narrative. A Darwin/ Wedgewood Family Tree is followed by 18+ pages of chapter notes and 2 pages of suggested reading. This is a must purchase title for public and high school libraries. Thoughtful and interested middle school students will enjoy it, especially if they bring some background in Darwin, his theory or are familiar with the Creationists debate to their reading. The average middle school student fulfilling a biography reading assignment will struggle.