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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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Product Description

Galileo Galilei's telescopes allowed him to discover a new reality in the heavens. But for publicly declaring his astounding argument--that the earth revolves around the sun--he was accused of heresy and put under house arrest by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Living a far different life, Galileo's daughter Virginia, a cloistered nun, proved to be her father's greatest source of strength through the difficult years of his trial and persecution.

Drawing upon the remarkable surviving letters that Virginia wrote to her father, Dava Sobel has written a fascinating history of Medici--era Italy, a mesmerizing account of Galileo's scientific discoveries and his trial by Church authorities, and a touching portrayal of a father--daughter relationship. Galileo's Daughter is a profoundly moving portrait of the man who forever changed the way we see the universe.

• Winner of the Christopher Award and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award

• Named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, and the American Library Association

Product Details

  • Amazon Sales Rank: #746874 in Books
  • Published on: 2000-11-01
  • Released on: 2000-11-01
  • Fabric type: paperback
  • Ingredients: Example Ingredients
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 8.46" h x .91" w x 5.60" l, .79 pounds
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 432 pages

Editorial Reviews Review
Everyone knows that Galileo Galilei dropped cannonballs off the leaning tower of Pisa, developed the first reliable telescope, and was convicted by the Inquisition for holding a heretical belief--that the earth revolved around the sun. But did you know he had a daughter? In Galileo's Daughter, Dava Sobel (author of the bestselling Longitude) tells the story of the famous scientist and his illegitimate daughter, Sister Maria Celeste. Sobel bases her book on 124 surviving letters to the scientist from the nun, whom Galileo described as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and tenderly attached to me." Their loving correspondence revealed much about their world: the agonies of the bubonic plague, the hardships of monastic life, even Galileo's occasional forgetfulness ("The little basket, which I sent you recently with several pastries, is not mine, and therefore I wish you to return it to me").

While Galileo tangled with the Church, Maria Celeste--whose adopted name was a tribute to her father's fascination with the heavens--provided moral and emotional support with her frequent letters, approving of his work because she knew the depth of his faith. As Sobel notes, "It is difficult today ... to see the Earth at the center of the Universe. Yet that is where Galileo found it." With her fluid prose and graceful turn of phrase, Sobel breathes life into Galileo, his daughter, and the earth-centered world in which they lived. --Sunny Delaney

From Publishers Weekly
Despite its title, this impressive book proves to be less the story of Galileo's elder daughter, the oldest of his three illegitimate children, and more the story of Galileo himself and his trial before the Inquisition for arguing that Earth moves around the Sun. That familiar tale is given a new slant by Sobel's translationAfor the first time into EnglishAof the 124 surviving letters to Galileo by his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, a Clarisse nun who died at age 33; his letters to her are lost, presumably destroyed by Maria Celeste's convent after her death. Her letters may not in themselves justify a book; they are devout, full of pious love for the father she addresses as "Sire," only rarely offering information or insight. But Sobel uses them as the accompaniment to, rather than the core of, her story, sounding the element of faith and piety so often missing in other retellings of Galileo's story. For Sobel shows that, in renouncing his discoveries, Galileo acted not just to save his skin but also out of a genuine need to align himself with his church. With impressive skill and economy, she portrays the social and psychological forces at work in Galileo's trial, particularly the political pressures of the Thirty Years' War, and the passage of the plague through Italy, which cut off travel between Florence, where Galileo lived, and Rome, the seat of the Pope and the Inquisition, delaying Galileo's appearance there and giving his enemies time to conspire. In a particularly memorable way, Sobel vivifies the hard life of the "Poor Clares," who lived in such abject poverty and seclusion that many were driven mad by their confinement. It's a wholly involving tale, a worthy follow-up (after four years) to Sobel's surprise bestseller, Longitude. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
Like Sobel's best-selling Longtitude, this is a compelling and gracefully written science history, retelling the familiar story of Galileo's battle with the Roman Catholic Church through the letters of his daughter, a cloistered nun. What results is a new view of the scientist. (LJ 10/1/99)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful.
4A Reason Why Popes Don't Have Real Names
By Cabin Dweller
On page 347, Maria Celeste Galilei dies from dysentery, a young woman who devoted herself to the nunnery and to correspondence with her famous father. Parts of that correspondence seem quite a drag, but what can be seen on page 347 finally reveals that Galileo was not off-put by how much money her poverty cost him. Not only is Galileo the victim of Pope Urban, as well as the previous pope who warned him off Copernicus in 1616, he pays for extended family, family, and is otherwise drained in every direction, right down to conversations he could not have with visitors that were not allowed. If not financially, he is surely intellectually strangled, and still obeisant to foolish Catholic dogma.

The letters are part of the book but they are not part of the story. Galileo's life was a balance of faith and experimentation, of admiration and jealousy. Dava Sobel makes no grand connection between the role of his daughter and his great frustrations and successes. The letters do suggest the smothering presence of the Catholic Church that would enable an Inquisition I find hardly more tolerable than what can be found in Japan in the recent movie "Silence," set in the exact same time frame of the 1630s.

Galileo refutes Aristotle and Ptolemy through the dialogue of 3 representatives in his banned book, one of them representing Copernicus: Dialogue of the Two World Systems. His "Two New Sciences" is not about the earth's rotation but a later work about motion. Any academic seeking encouragement for success late in life can cite Galileo, who published 20 years after Shakespeare's death although the two were born the same year, the year of Michelangelo's death. Any scientist seeking encouragement for success can cite Galileo, whose methods of experimentation show mostly a motivated layman disgusted by idle hands. As a matter of fact, just about any person who has been wrongly persecuted, underpaid, nagged, or underestimated can just look at this model for help. His example is a lot more specific than Job's.

The stories about the plague are of great interest. Page 204 has a ghastly illustration. Andreas Vesalius is included in the book not only for medical context but for his similar improvements upon Aristotle's conclusions regarding the heart as the "origin of the nerves".

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
4A Pleasant Surprise
By Debbie Winn
I was expecting this book to be historical fiction like Phillipa Gregory or Elizabeth Chadwick write. However, this book was written by a cloistered nun, Dava Sobel, who was fascinated by Galileo and the relationship he had with his daughter. There is an extensive bibliography at the end that makes it apparent that the author had access to , and studied carefully, the volumes of surviving letters between Galileo and his daughter Soeur Maria Celeste (she became a nun after being cloistered in a convent at a young age). So I learned much about Galileo, his thinking, discoveries, and inventions. By quoting translations of the actual letters between the two, the author develops an intimate picture of the subjects. This is more than historical fiction, it a biography of an important man told from a unique point of view. There are illustrations throughout that give further gravitas to the story.

In short, this was an excellent read, providing much more than I expected.

0 of 0 people found the following review helpful.
By Richard E. Moser
A fascinating look behind the scenes of Galileo's life and his crusade for the truth of the Copernican model of the universe and for scientific facts in general. The inclusion extensive quotes from correspondence to and from one of his daughters makes this history feel particularly personal and intimate.

Although I suspect not unique among Galileo biographies, this "memoir" illuminates the religious context which made Galileo's work and writing so controversial as well as the personal conflicts experienced by a devout man standing in contravention to his Church's dogma.

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