Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary tract on evolution and the fundamental ideas involved, in 1859. 150 years later, the theory of evolution continues to create tension between the scientific and religious communities. This same debate raged within Darwin himself, and played an important part in his marriage: his wife, Emma, was very religious, and her faith challenged Charles as he worked on his theory of evolution. Deborah Heiligman’s new biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a middle grade biography, but I really enjoyed reading this one. Heiligman focuses not on Darwin’s work but instead on Darwin the man and his relationships with his parents, siblings, children, and most centrally his wife, Emma. I found that I learned a lot about a man who I would have assumed I already knew a lot about (there was a period of time in my first year of my undergraduate degree where I was studying Darwin in four out of my five classes - and I wasn't even a science student). It amazes me that so much detail can be found about people who lived so long ago; books like this always make me want to keep writing in my journal, just in case the details will be important to somebody someday. This book was a finalist for the (US) National Book Award.