Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

by Dava Sobel

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Overview

Inspired by a long fascination with Galileo, and by the remarkable surviving letters of his daughter Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun, Dava Sobel has crafted a biography that dramatically recolors the personality and accomplishments of a mythic figure whose early-seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion-the man Albert Einstein called "the father of modern physics-indeed of modern science altogether." It is also a stunning portrait of Galileo's daughter, a person hitherto lost to history, described by her father as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."

Moving between Galileo's grand public life and Maria Celeste's sequestered world, Sobel illuminates the Florence of the Medicis and the papal court in Rome during the pivotal era when humanity's perception of its place in the cosmos was about to be overturned. During that same time, while the bubonic plague wreaked its terrible devastation and the Thirty Years' War tipped fortunes across Europe, Galileo sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope. Filled with human drama and scientific adventure, Galileo's Daughter is an unforgettable story.

Praise for Galileo's Daughter :

"[Sobel] shows herself a virtuoso at encapsulating the history and the politics of science. Her descriptions of Galileo's ideas...are pithy, vivid, and intelligible."-Wall Street Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802779656
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 08/30/2011
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 74,992
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Dava Sobel is an award-winning science writer and the internationally bestselling author of Longitude and The Planets. Longitude has sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide. She is co-author of The Illustrated Longitude. She lives in East Hampton, New York.

Read an Excerpt

1. She Who Was So Precious to You

MOST ILLUSTRIOUS LORD FATHER

We are terribly saddened by the death of your cherished sister, our dear aunt; but our sorrow at losing her is as nothing compared to our concern for your sake, because your suffering will be all the greater, Sire, as truly you have no one else left in your world, now that she, who could not have been more precious to you, has departed, and therefore we can only imagine how you sustain the severity of such a sudden and completely unexpected blow. And while I tell you that we share deeply in your grief, you would do well to draw even greater comfort from contemplating the general state of human misery, since we are all of us here on Earth like strangers and wayfarers, who soon will be bound for our true homeland in Heaven, where there is perfect happiness, and where we must hope that your sister's blessed soul has already gone. Thus, for the love of God, we pray you, Sire, to be consoled and to put yourself in His hands, for, as you know so well, that is what He wants of you; to do otherwise would be to injure yourself and hurt us, too, because we lament grievously when we hear that you are burdened and troubled, as we have no other source of goodness in this world but you.

I will say no more, except that with all our hearts we fervently pray the Lord to comfort you and be with you always, and we greet you dearly with our ardent love.

FROM SAN MATTEO, THE 10TH DAY OF MAY 1623. Most affectionate daughter, S. Maria Celeste

The day after his sister Virginia's funeral, the already world-renowned scientist Galileo Galilei received this, the first of 124 surviving letters from the once-voluminous correspondencehe carried on with his elder daughter. She alone of Galileo's three children mirrored his own brilliance, industry, and sensibility, and by virtue of these qualities became his confidante.

Galileo's daughter, born of his long illicit liaison with the beautiful Marina Gamba of Venice, entered the world in the summer heat of a new century, on August 13, 1600—the same year the Dominican friar Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome for insisting, among his many heresies and blasphemies, that the Earth traveled around the Sun, instead of remaining motionless at the center of the universe. In a world that did not yet know its place, Galileo would engage this same cosmic conflict with the Church, treading a dangerous path between the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic and the heavens he revealed through his telescope.

Galileo christened his daughter Virginia, in honor of his "cherished sister." But because he never married Virginia's mother, he deemed the girl herself unmarriageable. Soon after her thirteenth birthday, he placed her at the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri, where she lived out her life in poverty and seclusion.

Virginia adopted the name Maria Celeste when she became a nun, in a gesture that acknowledged her father's fascination with the stars. Even after she professed a life of prayer and penance, she remained devoted to Galileo as though to a patron saint. The doting concern evident in her condolence letter was only to intensify over the ensuing decade as her father grew old, fell more frequently ill, pursued his singular research nevertheless, and published a book that brought him to trial by the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

The "we" of Suor Maria Celeste's letter speaks for herself and her sister, Livia—Galileo's strange, silent second daughter, who also took the veil and vows at San Matteo to become Suor Arcangela. Meanwhile their brother, Vincenzio, the youngest child of Galileo and Marina's union, had been legitimized in a fiat by the grand duke of Tuscany and gone off to study law at the University of Pisa.

Thus Suor Maria Celeste consoled Galileo for being left alone in his world, with daughters cloistered in the separate world of nuns, his son not yet a man, his former mistress dead, his family of origin all deceased or dispersed.

Galileo, now fifty-nine, also stood boldly alone in his world-view, as Suor Maria Celeste knew from reading the books he wrote and the letters he shared with her from colleagues and critics all over Italy, as well as from across the continent beyond the Alps. Although her father had started his career as a professor of mathematics, teaching first at Pisa and then at Padua, every philosopher in Europe tied Galileo's name to the most startling series of astronomical discoveries ever claimed by a single individual.

In 1609, when Suor Maria Celeste was still a child in Padua, Galileo had set a telescope in the garden behind his house and turned it skyward. Never-before-seen stars leaped out of the darkness to enhance familiar constellations; the nebulous Milky Way resolved into a swath of densely packed stars; mountains and valleys pockmarked the storied perfection of the Moon; and a retinue of four attendant bodies traveled regularly around Jupiter like a planetary system in miniature.

"I render infinite thanks to God," Galileo intoned after those nights of wonder, "for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries."

The newfound worlds transformed Galileo's life. He won appointment as chief mathematician and philosopher to the grand duke in 1610, and moved to Florence to assume his position at the court of Cosimo de' Medici. He took along with him his two daughters, then ten and nine years old, but he left Vincenzio, who was only four when greatness descended on the family, to live a while longer in Padua with Marina.

Galileo found himself lionized as another Columbus for his conquests. Even as he attained the height of his glory, however, he attracted enmity and suspicion. For instead of opening a distant land dominated by heathens, Galileo trespassed on holy ground. Hardly had his first spate of findings stunned the populace of Europe before a new wave followed: He saw dark spots creeping continuously across the face of the Sun, and "the mother of loves," as he called the planet Venus, cycling through phases from full to crescent, just as the Moon did.

All his observations lent credence to the unpopular Sun-centered universe of Nicolaus Copernicus, which had been introduced over half a century previously, but foundered on lack of evidence. Galileo's efforts provided the beginning of a proof. And his flamboyant style of promulgating his ideas—sometimes in bawdy humorous writings, sometimes loudly at dinner parties and staged debates—transported the new astronomy from the Latin Quarters of the universities into the public arena. In 1616, a pope and a cardinal inquisitor reprimanded Galileo, warning him to curtail his forays into the supernal realms. The motions of the heavenly bodies, they said, having been touched upon in the Psalms, the Book of Joshua, and elsewhere in the Bible, were matters best left to the Holy Fathers of the Church.

Galileo obeyed their orders, silencing himself on the subject. For seven cautious years he turned his efforts to less perilous pursuits, such as harnessing his Jovian satellites in the service of navigation, to help sailors discover their longitude at sea. He studied poetry and wrote literary criticism. Modifying his telescope, he developed a compound microscope. "I have observed many tiny animals with great admiration," he reported, 11 among which the flea is quite horrible, the gnat and the moth very beautiful; and with great satisfaction I have seen how flies and other little animals can walk attached to mirrors, upside down."

Shortly after his sister's death in May of 1623, however, Galileo found reason to return to the Sun-centered universe like a moth to a flame. That summer a new pope ascended the throne of Saint Peter in Rome. The Supreme Pontiff Urban VIII brought to the Holy See an intellectualism and an interest in scientific investigation not shared by his immediate predecessors. Galileo knew the man personally—he had demonstrated his telescope to him and the two had taken the same side one night in a debate about floating bodies after a banquet at the Florentine court. Urban, for his part, had admired Galileo so long and well that he had even written a poem for him, mentioning the sights revealed by "Galileo's glass."

The presence of the poet pope encouraged Galileo to proceed with a long-planned popular dissertation on the two rival theories of cosmology: the Sun-centered and the Earth-centered, or, in his words, the "two chief systems of the world."

It might have been difficult for Suor Maria Celeste to condone this course—to reconcile her role as a bride of Christ with her father's position as potentially the greatest enemy of the Catholic Church since Martin Luther. But instead she approved of his endeavors because she knew the depth of his faith. She accepted Galileo's conviction that God had dictated the Holy Scriptures to guide men's spirits but proffered the unraveling of the universe as a challenge to their intelligence. Understanding her father's prodigious capacity in this pursuit, she prayed for his health, for his longevity, for the fulfillment of his "every just desire." As the convent's apothecary, she concocted elixirs and pills to strengthen him for his studies and protect him from epidemic diseases. Her letters, animated by her belief in Galileo's innocence of any heretical depravity, carried him through the ordeal of his ultimate confrontation with Urban and the Inquisition in 1633.

No detectable strife ever disturbed the affectionate relationship between Galileo and his daughter. Theirs is not a tale of abuse or rejection or intentional stifling of abilities. Rather, it is a love story, a tragedy, and a mystery.

Most of Suor Maria Celeste's letters traveled in the pocket of a messenger, or in a basket laden with laundry, sweetmeats, or herbal medicines, across the short distance from the Convent of San Matteo, on a hillside just south of Florence, to Galileo in the city or at his suburban home. Following the angry papal summons to Rome in 1632, however, the letters rode on horseback some two hundred miles and were frequently delayed by quarantines imposed as the Black Plague spread death and dread across Italy. Gaps of months' duration disrupt the continuity of the reportage in places, but every page is redolent of daily life, down to the pain of toothache and the smell of vinegar.

Galileo held on to his daughter's missives indiscriminately, collecting her requests for fruits or sewing supplies alongside her outbursts on ecclesiastical politics. Similarly, Suor Maria Celeste saved all of Galileo's letters, as rereading them, she often reminded him, gave her great pleasure. By the time she received the last rites, the letters she had gathered over her lifetime in the convent constituted the bulk of her earthly possessions. But then the mother abbess, who would have discovered Galileo's letters while emptying Suor Maria Celeste's cell, apparently buried or burned them out of fear. After the celebrated trial at Rome, a convent dared not harbor the writings of a "vehemently suspected" heretic. In this fashion, the correspondence between father and daughter was long ago reduced to a monologue.

Standing in now for all the thoughts he once expressed to her are only those he chanced to offer others about her. "A woman of exquisite mind," Galileo described her to a colleague in another country, "singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."

On first learning of Suor Maria Celeste's letters, people generally assume that Galileo's replies must lie concealed somewhere in the recesses of the Vatican Library, and that if only an enterprising outsider could gain access, the missing half of the dialogue would be found. But, alas, the archives have been combed, several times, by religious authorities and authorized researchers all desperate to hear the paternal tone of Galileo's voice. These seekers have come to accept the account of the mother abbess's destruction of the documents as the most reasonable explanation for their disappearance. The historical importance of any paper signed by Galileo, not to mention the prices such articles have commanded for the past two centuries, leaves few conceivable places where whole packets of his letters could hide.

Although numerous commentaries, plays, poems, early lectures, and manuscripts of Galileo's have also disappeared (known only by specific mentions in more than two thousand preserved letters from his contemporary correspondents), his enormous legacy includes his five most important books, two of his original handmade telescopes, various portraits and busts he sat for during his lifetime, even parts of his body preserved after death. (The middle finger of his right hand can be seen, encased in a gilded glass egg atop an inscribed marble pedestal at the Museum of the History of Science in Florence.)

Of Suor Maria Celeste, however, only her letters remain. Bound into a single volume with cardboard and leather covers, the frayed, deckle-edged pages now reside among the rare manuscripts at Florence's National Central Library. The handwriting throughout is still legible, though the once-black ink has turned brown. Some letters bear annotations in Galileo's own hand, for he occasionally jotted notes in the margins about the things she said and at other times made seemingly unrelated calculations or geometric diagrams in the blank spaces around his address on the verso. Several of the sheets are marred by tiny holes, torn, darkened by acid or mildew, smeared with spilled oil. Of those that are water-blurred, some obviously ventured through the rain, while others look more likely tear-stained, either during the writing or the reading of them. After nearly four hundred years, the red sealing wax still sticks to the folded corners of the paper.

These letters, which have never been published in translation, recast Galileo's story. They recolor the personality and conflict of a mythic figure, whose seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion. For although science has soared beyond his quaint instruments, it is still caught in his struggle, still burdened by an impression of Galileo as a renegade who scoffed at the Bible and drew fire from a Church blind to reason.

This pervasive, divisive power of the name Galileo is what Pope John Paul II tried to tame in 1992 by reinvoking his torment so long after the fact. "A tragic mutual incomprehension," His Holiness observed of the 350-year Galileo affair, "has been interpreted as the reflection of a fundamental opposition between science and faith."

Yet the Galileo of Suor Maria Celeste's letters recognized no such division during his lifetime. He remained a good Catholic who believed in the power of prayer and endeavored always to conform his duty as a scientist with the destiny of his soul. "Whatever the course of our lives," Galileo wrote, "we should receive them as the highest gift from the hand of God, in which equally reposed the power to do nothing whatever for us. Indeed, we should accept misfortune not only in thanks, but in infinite gratitude to Providence, which by such means detaches us from an excessive love for Earthly things and elevates our minds to the celestial and divine...

Table of Contents

Part One: To Florence ... 3
Part Two: On Bellosguardo ... 99
Part Three: In Rome ... 187
Part Four: In Care of the Tuscan Embassy, Villa Medici Rome ... 231
Part Five: At Siena ... 285
Part Six: From Arcetri ... 331
In Galileo's Time ... 369
Florentine Weights, Measures, Currency ... 375
Bibliography ... 376
Notes ... 383
Appreciation ... 394
Art Credits ... 396
Index ... 399

What People are Saying About This

Dava Sobel

From the Author

The seventeenth century draws me and holds me because it embraces the most stunning reversal in perception ever to have jarred intelligent thought: We are not the center of the universe. The immobility of our world is an illusion. We spin. We speed through space, circling the Sun on our own wandering star.

Although the Polish cleric Nicolaus Copernicus had suggested this notion in 1543, it remained the quiet conjecture of scholars for more than sixty years before Galileo brought the Sun-centered universe to the attention of the general public. Beginning in 1609, his telescopic discoveries afforded the first tentative evidence in support of overturning the world order. In no time, Galileo the man became identified with the unpopular new paradigm, so that he attracted not only followers who lauded his insights, but also jealous competitors who vied with him for fame, outraged philosophers who questioned his veracity, and angry churchmen who accused him of heresy. Because, in the seventeenth century, Galileo's new cosmos was not simply a matter of astronomy, but appeared to violate an article of faith.

The Bible spoke specifically to this issue. The Psalms, for example, noted how God had "fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever." And surely the Sun must have been moving through space when Joshua entreated it to stand still.

A devout Catholic all his life, Galileo entertained these objections seriously. He believed in the absolute truth of the Bible, but he also believed in the fallacy of human interpretation of Holy Writ. Even the simplest sounding passages might hold the most hidden meanings. Thus, wherever the findings of astronomy appeared to contradict the teachings of Scripture, Galileo maintained, someone must have misconstrued the Biblical text.

The Bible was a book about how to go to Heaven, Galileo believed, not how the heavens go. Why would anyone turn to the Word of God to study astronomy when the Works of God stood open to scrutiny for that very purpose?

As enlightened as his viewpoint was -- indeed it became the official position of the Catholic Church in 1893 -- Galileo argued as a layman in an era of religious upheaval. The Council of Trent, after deliberating for two decades in response to the Protestant Reformation, in 1546 had issued a formal profession of faith that ceded Biblical interpretation to the Holy Fathers of the Church.

Galileo's championing of the Copernican system backfired miserably. In 1616, a formal Edict issued by the Holy Congregation of the Index declared the Sun-centered universe "false and contrary to Holy Scripture." And in 1633, Galileo stood trial before the Roman Inquisition for his persistent defense of the banned ideas, earning his enduring reputation as an enemy of church.

The rift between science and religion that we trace to the seventeenth century -- and specifically to the figure of Galileo -- opened in spite of him, not at any urging of his own. As the long-neglected letters of his daughter, a cloistered nun, have enabled me to show in my new book, Galileo's Daughter, Galileo endeavored always to conform his duty as a scientist with the destiny of his soul. The shift in perception that eventually rocked the world from complacency was for him the natural consequence of God's true omnipotence.

"It seems to me that we take too much upon ourselves," Galileo wrote, "when we will have it that merely taking care of us is the adequate work of Divine wisdom and power, and the limit beyond which it creates and disposes of nothing. I should not like to have us tie its hand so."

From the Publisher

"Sobel is a master storyteller...she brings a great scientist to life."—The New York Times Book Review.

"Innovative history and a wonderfully told tale."—Newsweek.

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Galileo's Daughter 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 98 reviews.
Rana-19 More than 1 year ago
I checked this book out from my school library for a science project. At first I was suprised with the size of it, but whenever I opened the book I read at least 15 to 20 pages each time, and before I knew it I finished it. It was basically more about Galileo than his daughter. Throughout the books there were letters that Suor Maria Celeste (Galileo's daughter)wrote to her father about how things were going in her life at the convent being a nun. He also had another daughter and a son. Both of the girls were nuns. Maria would sometimes send her father some cake along with her letters which she would send with a messenger who would then travel a couple hundred of miles. She would also include prayers in her letters because her father fell unbelievingly ill one year. Maria and her father had a very close father-daughter relationship. Maria would ask her father for money sometimes as alms to support the convent. Her father would sometimes send her fabric for her to sew him curtains or to even fix up an old shirt. Overall it was really a great book. I would recommend it for school projects or even just reading in free time or book clubs.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Three stars only because the story of Galileo is enriching. The daughter's letters are stilted and unrevealing, and it's hard to get a grasp on her true feelings. These letters, full of: 'The fruit was wonderful' and 'Thou art so esteemed to one and all,' gets repetitious early on. There's a moody, resentful daughter, also cloistered away with this one of the title, who would have been a far more interesting character than this one. But not too much is said (or possibly known) about that one, Livia.
OSAKAROSE More than 1 year ago
This is an absolutely fascinating look at Galileo and his relationship to his daughter and science through letters penned between the two. It is a shame that many of his daughter's letters were burned (go figure, it was the Inquisition period) but the few that remain are an amazing insight into the man, his science, his religious beliefs and the love he had for his daughter. I highly recommend it.
glauver More than 1 year ago
Dava Sobel's Longitude was a brilliant recounting of the solution to one of mankind's most perplexing problems. Galileo's Daughter is a longer book, and a different one in style and construction. Sobel has written a dual biography of the great astronomer and his daughter, Sister Maria Celeste. It is difficult to escape the irony of Galileo's prosecution by the Church that included his daughter as a nun but neither of them seemed to be aware of it. Although only her letters to him have survived, Sobel uses them to humanize both father and daughter. There is plenty of science in this book, but the relationship between them despite all the obstacles lifts it to the level of the great biographies.
Melissa Groves More than 1 year ago
Great read! If you love history, you'll love this look at the entirety of Galileo, his scientific ideas, trial, and the family life minutiae that made him utterly human.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very slow start since most of her letters do not come into play until page 100. This is written more as an educational book than the weaving a story that incorporates the facts with emotions etc... I was not as happy with this book as I had hoped.
JCPortland More than 1 year ago
Not what I expected with the title it has. Mostly a scientific explanation of Galileo's theories. Read over 100 pages then stopped. Not my cup of tea.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book, while well-written, is, for the most part, not about Galileo's daughter. In fact, it barely mentions her at all. I expected a book about a loving, long-distance relationship between father and daughter, but I got a book stating Galileo's accomplishments.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best nonfiction historical dramas around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gazing at the night sky will never be the same. This engaging picture of Galileo, taken from letters written to him from his daughter, reveal not only the man but the whole of the world at a crossroads of faith and history vs. intellect and science. Galileo was a man of both pathways but unlike most of the world he could see the crossroads as a map toward the future, not a roadblock. His faith sustained him when his science made him a target of the faithful. His intellectual powers helped him see beyond the obvious into a sky full of wonders and undiscovered worlds. A scholar, a father, a scientist, a politician, an enemy of the church, Galileo comes to life as if seen reflected in a mirror of his own making. His inventions become understandable, his honesty is breathtaking and his influence on our daily lives is seen as if through one of his famous telescopes. Science is always better if it is seen against the background of daily life, it takes on its true colors and becomes a protagonist that engages our minds and forces us to realize the old truth that progress always comes at a cost. This book, like Galileo's telescopes, helps us see the connections between intellect, mechanics, and man's perception of and engagement with the universe.
Kit-KatandRichard More than 1 year ago
Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter" was beautifully written, very well researched, and had sweet surprises from beginning to end. I now have a greater appreciation, not only for the genius of Galileo, but also for the bittersweet times in which he lived. Many thanks to dava Sobel, what's next?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must admit I found this book to be a little dry. I understand that some background information on Galileo had to be provided but I felt like I was studying for my master's thesis when I was trudging through this tome. So many details!! So many events!! So many small victories for our man Galileo Galilei!! I just wanted to get right to the letters, to get to 'know' the daughter writing them, so I skipped most of the establishing elements and went right to the part where the correspondence was introduced. I tried to be interested in her writing. But besides the obvious (and sometimes sickening) filial devotion which opened and closed her letters, I found them to be of little more substance than a laundry list. I could read only so much about starching and sewing lace cuffs and washing shirts. As if reading this book wasn't enough of a chore, I had to read about HER chores! No thanks. I am the type of person that must have something (anything) to read while I'm eating. And Galileo's Daughter was my dinnertime companion for several nights, until I decided that having naught to read was better than having to go any further in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent insights into the person of Galileo and his brilliant and caring daughter. Interesting historical insights.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A touching historical novel largely about the works of Galileo, but formed from the surviving letters from his daughter. I really was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It was a great glimpse into life early in the 17th century.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story of the personal and scientific life of Galileo centers around both his work and his letters from his daughter. We get to see a side of Galileo that is ignored in other books. He makes discoveries in astronomy and physics that are the equal of any scientist to come. His concern for his family is always present throughtout.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The title, Galileo¿s Daughter, is a bit of a misnomer. At least, that is the perception throughout the early pages of Dava Sobel¿s historical narrative. Other than a letter sprinkled here and there from daughter to father, the book appears to be about Galileo. Further reading, however, enlightens the reader to the fact that Galileo and his daughter, Virginia, are inextricably bonded¿a book about either will be a book about the other. Little is known about Virginia, Galileo¿s illegitimate daughter. She along with a brother and a sister are the offspring of Galileo and his long-time Venetian mistress, Marina Gamba. Galileo never marries, and he and Marina eventually part ways; however, he maintains a familial relationship with his children throughout his life. Because of their illegitimacy, the daughters of Galileo are not suitable for a marriage arrangement. The next honorable choice becomes the convent. Galileo, therefore, places thirteen-year-old Virginia and her twelve-year-old sister, Livia, in the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri. We know little about Livia. Virginia¿s letters shed a bit of light on this second child of Galileo; however, there does not seem to be very much interaction between the great scientist and his younger daughter. As a nun, Virginia adopts the name Maria Celeste, a name to honor her father¿s fascination with the stars. Before writing this book, Sobel translated over one hundred and twenty letters written by Suor Maria Celeste to her father. Sadly, the letters written by Galileo in response no longer exist. Sobel uses these letters of Suor Maria Celeste, combines them with history, and reveals the story about a great man and his beloved daughter. Science and mathematics permeate the book; however, Sobel writes Galileo¿s Daughter in a style that even liberal arts types will enjoy reading. At the end of the book, she tells us how Galileo is posthumously venerated; and, she shares a beautiful truth about the final resting-place of Suor Maria Celeste that brought tears to my eyes. I believe it will to yours too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was disappointing and I found myself unable to stick with it. Even my scientist husband says the information and research is worthy, but very dull in its presentation. The title is misleading, and I felt the correspondence did not give an insight into the character of Galileo's daughter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found much of interest in this book regarding Galileo. However, the title led me to believe that I would learn more about the daughter, not Galileo. Because I kept waiting for the book to swing into the topic of Galileo's daughter, I was over halfway through it before I realized it wasn't going to happen! As a history buff I did enjoy reading about what has to be one of the most brilliant minds ever to walk the earth. The information is presented in a reasonably interesting manner and the auther clearly presents their close, loving relationship. I just wish I had known what I was really going to be reading about! The daughter remains a bit of a mystery here, and I can't help but wish I had learned more about her as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an engrossing, highly readable biography of Galileo and, to a lesser degree (due to a lack of existing information), his daughter, Soeur Marie Celeste. The book translates a number of letters that Soeur Marie Celeste wrote to her father; none from Galileo to her have been found (although they are alluded to by Soeur Marie Celeste). The author is thorough in her documentation of Galileo's scientific endeavors and legal struggles, and allows the reader to draw his own conclusions about the personal merits/neuroses of both people. It's hard not to be struck by the sexism of the time, whereby Galileo goes out of his way to make sure his lazy, disappointing, recalcitrant illegitmate son is both legitimized and employed by the Church, whereas his favored, hardworking and excrutiatingly devoted daughter is sent to a cloistured order where she lives like a literal prisoner... starving, sleep deprived and overworked. It is also obvious that although a genius, a wonderful professional mentor and a generous man, Galileo is no hero -- willing to renounce the scientific truths he knows in order to stay out of hot water. He was also a social climber. The only regret a reader might have is the lack of knowledge one is left with regarding how Soeur Marie Celeste actually felt about her lot in life -- and how her father justified it. But it's to the author's credit that she never tries to fill in what historical proof doesn't offer. Also very helpful for readers -- like me -- who aren't science whizzes and would like Galileo's experiments and discoveries explained in a simple manner.
JGolomb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What Dava Sobel does best is connect world-shattering science with the individuals who brought that discipline or discovery to light. Beyond that, she provides the context of the world in which they lived. In writing about Copernicus and John `Longitude¿ Harrison, she wrote of worlds on the cusp of modernity, one world much closer to the dark Middle Ages, another in the throes of a technological evolution. In ¿Galileo¿s Daughter¿, Sobel introduces us to the scientist as a man, as a father, and as a much more human figure than history tends to portray.Galileo¿s daughter is Suor Maria Celeste. Living in a convent since she was an early teen, her letters to her father bring an amazingly fresh `day-in-the-life¿ perspective to this amazingly significant time in history. Galileo saved numerous letters from his daughter and Sobel translated them for this book. Suor Maria Celeste¿s belongings were not saved when she died (sadly preceding her father by several years) as was the tradition in 17th Century convents. And so we get an interesting one-sided view of Galileo Galilei through the eyes of his daughter. She¿s proud of her father and clearly loves him. She seems to hold her father in the palm of her hand¿that magical ability that all daughters have over their fathers since time in memoriam. She¿s indirect, but it¿s clear that she knows how to push his buttons. She doesn¿t take advantage, at least not in any modern sense. But she knows what to say when she needs money (for her convent), or a favor. She loves her father deeply.¿Galileo¿s Daughter¿ is written through several lenses. We witness the biography of Galileo¿s life. We witness the history of the Late Renaissance and the Counter Reformation. And we witness a certain amount of daily life as we peer over Galileo¿s shoulder and read the sweet and exceedingly genuine letters from a loving daughter to her surprisingly doting father.Galileo wrote on many scientific topics, but his most famous work is his treatise on ¿Two Chief Systems of the World¿. He supports the worldview that Copernicus identified a generation earlier ¿ that the heavens do not in fact revolve around Earth. Sobel does a nice job of integrating Galileo¿s deft handling of the topic that ultimately landed him in front of the Roman Inquisition. Galileo was an extremely well-know and highly regarded figure in his own lifetime. His trial, and public abjuration of errors and admittance to certain heresies, became a defining moment in a scientific revolution, and would cause a rift between men of science and men of religion that would be felt well into the 20th century. John Paul II referred to the 350-year Galileo affair: ¿has been interpreted as the reflection of a fundamental opposition between science and faith.¿Galileo preferred to validate theory through experimentation, not a common approach of the time. He dropped balls of different sizes off of the Leaning Tower in Pisa to compare the speed of the falling spheres, but Sobel writes that, ¿Many philosophers of the sixteenth century, unaccustomed to experimental proof, much preferred the wisdom of Aristotle to the antics of Galileo¿¿The Dutch had invented a spyglass that Galileo reworked into something more powerful that would ultimately become a telescope. Working with the military at the time, Galileo saw it¿s potential and pitched the device to the Doge and entire Venetian Senate. This resulted in a lifetime contract at the University of Padua with a salary to more than account for a life of comfort and ease. With his new telescope, he became obsessed with the night sky. Among the many graphics in Sobel¿s book, are beautifully detailed hand-drawn images of the Moon that Galileo created in 1609. The next year he came across the discovery that would ultimately set him on a path that would challenge one of the most powerful institutions in the World ¿ the Catholic Church. In January of 1610, Galileo wrote that he saw, ¿four planets never seen from the beginning of
melydia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is basically a biography of Galileo interspersed with letters from his devoted eldest daughter, a cloistered nun. The life story was of course quite fascinating, from his earliest publications to the trial by the Inquisition late in his life. His daughter¿s letters, however, were less illuminating, consisting mostly of household minutiae and requests for money. Her repeated professions of love seemed to border on the passive aggressive, but I suppose that may have just been the translation. It¿s too bad her father¿s replies were lost; I would have liked to know what sorts of things he said to her. Still, this was a good overview of the life of a great man, and Sobel remains one of my favorite science writers.
goth_marionette on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had high hopes for this book but was a bit let down. I don't feel that the author could decide between fiction and nonfiction. There were not enough references for me to feel that it was scholarly enough. Overall just a so-so book. I think that a reader would have to be very interested in Galileo. I would not recommend it for a casual reader.
nmulvany on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is really not much to say about the new edition, 2011, of Dava Sobel¿s Galileo¿s Daughter that has not been said about previous editions. It is a brilliant and enjoyable book. The science and history are explained clearly and in an inviting manner. The only addition to the 2011 paperback is a two-page ¿Preface to the 2011 Edition¿ by Sobel. While the new preface is interesting, the contents of the book remain the same as previous editions. Unfortunately the index remains the same too. A book such as this deserves a useful index. If you haven¿t read any of the previous editions of Galileo¿s Daughter, by all means getting going and read this edition, it is a great tale.
ParadigmTree on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Galileo's Daughter is a biography of Galileo Galilei wonderfully told by Dava Sobel. It is also a story of Galileo's daughter, with whom he corresponded extensively and loved devotedly. The surviving letters from Galileo's daughter frame Sobel's recounting of Galileo's life, from his intellectual triumphs to the ultimately tragic confrontation with the Catholic Church regarding the Copernican view of the universe. Throughout the story, Sobel includes other fascinating details about 16-17th century Italy, such as what life was like for Galileo's daughter living in a convent, and how the plague impacted events. Overall I found this book to be enjoyable and beautifully written.
Osbaldistone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Due to the somewhat misleading title, I ended up reading this biography of Galileo and thoroughly enjoying it. The correspondence to Galileo from his cloistered daughter is masterfully used by Sobel to create a very human story while delivering a quite detailed and current biography of Galileo's life as essentially the world's first scientist. This would be an enjoyable read for anyone who likes history, even if one does not care for 'history books', as Sobel tells a fine tale.Os.