On his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin traveled around the world, from the Cocos-Keeling Islands of the Indian Ocean to Australia, Patagonia, Brazil and Chile, collecting fossil bones, fish preserved in spirits of wine, rocks, plants, carcasses of dead animals, and beetles. Home for two years, he thought long and hard about another adventure: should he marry? Would marrying rule out future voyages? Would he miss the “conversation of clever men at clubs”? Most importantly, would he have time to develop his new theory to explain evolution—or transmutation, as it was called then—that would change the way the world thought about creation?

Darwin decided to marry his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood. Where Charles was devoted to science, Emma was devoted to her Christian faith. Their love story—a true marriage of science and religion—became one of the greatest adventures of Darwin’s life, and readers will revel in the drama of the opposites captured by Deborah Heiligman in Charles and Emma. Darwin’s scientific work—his theory of evolution, in particular—was, indeed, a real test of their relationship.

Emma feared that Charles would go to hell and they would not be together for eternity. But they were a loving couple, their marriage a leap of faith that love could transcend differences. It’s a story for all time, a story of appreciating differences and getting along in spite of them.

Heiligman’s writing is so good—so rooted in particulars of time, place and Darwin’s scientific thought, yet so light and full of drama—that readers will care about Charles and Emma and their love story. The debate between science and religion continues today, but the relationship of Charles and Emma Darwin demonstrates that science and religion are not incompatible.

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