Monday, February 28, 2011

One More February Famous Face!

Our talented guest blogger Katie finishes her examination of February's Famous Faces.

February Birthday Feature, Pt. 2: Charles Darwin

While Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is a tale of action and suspense, Darwin’s story as told in Charles & Emma by Deborah Heiligman is a far more deliberate story, focused on relationships and Big Ideas. And though these two books are very different, our birthday twins share one major similarity--both men stood for ideas that went against the beliefs of many and would inevitably divide friends and families. In Darwin’s case, he feared that his ideas may divide not just the world around him but his own marriage.

Through Charles’s journals and letters, this book gives us an inside look into the Darwin household and the development of Charles’s theory of natural selection as well as the impact his research had on his faith in God. One of my favorite aspects of this book was having the man behind the theory revealed--who knew that Charles Darwin was so very likeable and romantic!

Meanwhile, we also meet Emma, his wife and the editor of his work, who is no less intellectually curious or brilliant than Charles, but her views on religion differ greatly from those of her husband. Heiligman tackles the resulting tension between religion and science with all the delicacy and respect it deserves--just as Charles and Emma did. She shows us how throughout their marriage Emma reaches out to Charles about his faith through letters from time to time. And he, in turn, keeps these letters always to show his love and respect for her opinions.

To be sure, this is a quietly profound book. A person could write an epic story about any one of these Big Ideas: love, science, religion; but weaving them together about a real couple so seamlessly makes for a rewarding read and requires a great deal of skill, which is probably why Charles & Emma has won so many awards:

2010 National Book Award finalist
2010 Michael L. Printz Honor book
L.A. Times Book Prize Young Adult Literature finalist
2010 YALSA excellence in nonfiction award

For an audio celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday check out Darwinganza! put together by the clever folks at Radiolab (my favorite science radio show ever) and featuring an interview with Charles & Emma author Deborah Heiligman.

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