Galileo's Daughter

Galileo's Daughter

A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

Book - 1999
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Inspired by a long fascination with Galileo, and by the remarkable surviving letters of Galileo's daughter, a cloistered nun, Dava Sobel has written a biography unlike any other of the man Albert Einstein called "the father of modern physics- indeed of modern science altogether." Galileo's Daughter also presents a stunning portrait of a person hitherto lost to history, described by her father as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."

The son of a musician, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) tried at first to enter a monastery before engaging the skills that made him the foremost scientist of his day. Though he never left Italy, his inventions and discoveries were heralded around the world. Most sensationally, his telescopes allowed him to reveal a new reality in the heavens and to reinforce the astounding argument that the Earth moves around the Sun. For this belief, he was brought before the Holy Office of the Inquisition, accused of heresy, and forced to spend his last years under house arrest.

Of Galileo's three illegitimate children, the eldest best mirrored his own brilliance, industry, and sensibility, and by virtue of these qualities became his confidante. Born Virginia in 1600, she was thirteen when Galileo placed her in a convent near him in Florence, where she took the most appropriate name of Suor Maria Celeste. Her loving support, which Galileo repaid in kind, proved to be her father's greatest source of strength throughout his most productive and tumultuous years. Her presence, through letters which Sobel has translated from their original Italian and masterfully woven into the narrative, graces her father's life now as it did then.

Galileo's Daughter dramatically recolors the personality and accomplishment of a mythic figure whose seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion. 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. In that same time, while the bubonic plague wreaked its terrible devastation and the Thirty Years' War tipped fortunes across Europe, one man sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope.

With all the human drama and scientific adventure that distinguished Dava Sobel's previous book Longitude, Galileo's Daughter is an unforgettable story.

Publisher: New York : Walker & Co., c1999.
ISBN: 9780802713438
Branch Call Number: B Galilei, Galileo
Characteristics: 420 p. : 25 cm.


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Apr 18, 2018

A fascinating look at the life of controversial astronomer Galileo and the mores, politics and daily lives of 17th century Italians through the correspondence of his cloistered illegitimate eldest daughter. Dava Sobel is writes sparely and lets her superb research tell the story.

Dec 27, 2012

This is one of those rare books that entertains and informs. It's a superbly written biography of both Galileo & his older daughter, Virginia, (b. in 1600). She was 13 when Galileo placed her in a convent; & later, in 1616, took her vows with the name of Suor Maria Celeste. Sobel translated 124 of her letters (inc. in the book) written to her father. These give fascinating details of daily life - food, clothing, illnesses (& remedies) such as the plague, etc. during the 17th century. Upon Galileo's death in 1642, his friends wanted to erect a mausoleum befitting such a scientific genius, but Pope Urban VIII forbade it. Sobel dramatically recounts the night - 95 yrs. after his death--that his body was moved to the present ornate mausoleum in the Santa Croce Basilica in Florence. Dozens of wonderful illustrations enhance the reading pleasure of the book. Highly recommended.

Mar 03, 2012

Finally got around to finish reading this book, having initially picking it up some time ago and set it aside after the first few pages. The intricate arguments surrounding astronomical phenomenon doesn’t really interest me – the deductions, the implications of not saying anything that could put existing Church doctrine into question, the minute detail invoked by the political infighting between different schools of thought ... That said, the details about Galileo & his family’s lifestyle – Life in Italian cities during the 1600’s, the convent life of his daughters, his position in society, - I found really interesting – such as the fact that his home was a working estate with hay harvested & fruits made into candies, wine, the medicinal use of herbs etc. Reading about the plague & its effects on everyday life and of the Papal inquisition into his writings was quite riveting reading. Very well written and liked being able to read some of his daughter’s letter directly as I found it helped round out the story.

Dec 06, 2007

Finalist of the 2000 Pulitzer prize for biography.


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