"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 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 being overturned."--BOOK JACKET.
This book takes a fascinating approach to Galileo by studying him through his eldest daughter's eyes. He had three children--all illegitimate--with the two girls placed in a convent. The eldest, dubbed Suor Maria Celeste as a nun, had all of the intelligence and wit of her father. She managed many aspects of her convent, and while her father was imprisoned by the Inquisition, she also ran her father's household--even though she could not leave the convent grounds. This book delves heavily into Galileo's Dialogues, a volume that earned him the acclaim of his fellow scientists and the scorn of the Pope (his former friend), and resulted in his prolonged captivity during a time of virulent plague.
I'm very glad I read this, though at times it was challenging for me. I do not share Galileo's scientific mind, and I'm awed at the discoveries and observations he made with the tools at his disposal. I adored Maria Celeste's letters. Her voice is delightful and bright, always drawing heavily on her faith while supporting her father to the utmost. It's no wonder that Galileo was crushed by her death at age 34. Galileo's own long life of 77 is quite remarkable; up to the very end, despite blindness and incapacitating pain, he dictated new theories to his apprentice.
I highly recommend this book.
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 the world right up to our day, “ in orbit around the planet Jupiter. He’d identified previously unknown heavenly bodies. This would lead to his expansion of and (sort of subtle) advocacy of Copernicus’ sun-centric theory. What Copernicus derived theoretically, Galileo substantiated through study and experimentation. What was known at the time as ‘philosophy’, Galileo turned into modern day ‘science’.
He was a man who was exceedingly self-actualized. The last 30 pages of the book evoke a stinging pain as one realizes that an elderly Galileo was acutely aware that he was nearing the end of his days. He was frail, mostly bed-ridden, and sadly, the eyes that had once seen further (and more deeply) than any other person on Earth, had clouded over with age. He wrote a friend, “Bereft of my powers by my great age and even more by my unfortunate blindness and the failure of my memory and other senses, I spend my fruitless days which are so long because of my continuous inactivity and yet so brief compared with all the months and years which have passed; and I am left with no other comfort than the memory of the sweetnesses of former friendships, of which so few are left…”
Suor Maria Celeste “approved of his (Galileo’s) 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.”
Following his trial and while under house arrest, he wrote, “I have two sources of perpetual comfort…first, that in my writings there cannot be found the faintest shadow of irreverence towards the Holy church; and second, the testimony of my own conscience, which only I and God in Heaven thoroughly know. And He knows that (none)…have spoken with more piety or with greater zeal for the Church than I.”
There’s no mistaking any of Galileo’s actions as accidental or disingenuine. I believe, after reading this book that Galileo was at peace accepting a world where science and religion can co-exist, without existing severe doubt.
I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
The preface includes other interesting details like the above mentioned one and makes re-reading "Galileo's Daughter" just as good the second time through.