Galileo's Daughter , by Dava Sobel

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Galileo's Daughter : A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
October 1999 - 442 Pages
Paperback
October 2000 - 420 Pages
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Unabridged
October 1999
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Abridged
October 1999

Our book review

Hardcover - 442 pages
First Edition, October 1999
Walker Publishing Company
ISBN 0-8027-1343-2 / ISBN 0802713432

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel is the first complete biography of the Galilei family at a critical inflection point in world history. Scientists had begun to use observation and reason to understand the universe and our place in it, the last frontier. But the Enlightenment was a capital crime, the quest for knowledge itself was a prisoner chained up in the darkness of fear and superstition. The two central characters are the far-thinking astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and his devoted daughter Maria Celeste (1600-1634), a nun at the convent at San Matteo. Maria Celeste, originally named Virginia, was born in the same year that the Church and the Inquisition sent Giordano Bruno to be burned at the stake for voicing the speculation that there might be other planets much like our own, all revolving around the sun. [Page 4] The thousand years of the Dark Ages would end soon, but this didn't help the the father and daughter who could console each other only by entrusting handwritten letters to wanderers or merchants who were planning to ride in the general direction of the addressees while weaving around towns that were quarantined by the plague. [6]

The hardcover edition of Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

Maria Celeste saved all the letters her father had sent her, but they were never found after her death. Scholars believe that a friend who believed the letters to be incriminating destroyed them. Galileo also saved and cherished the letters from his daughter. 124 of these letters have survived the ages and are now stored at the National Central Library in Florence, Italy. Galileo sketched mathematical doodles on some of them. The publication of Galileo's Daughter in 1999 was the first time these letters were translated into English and published. [10-11]

Galileo was romantically involved with only one woman. He could never marry Marina Gamba, and they never lived together, because a university scholar was expected to remain single, but they had two daughters and a son. [24] Indeed, when Marina later married Giovanni Bartoluzzi, Galileo befriended Giovanni and gave the two of them financial support. [38] The two daughters were sent to a convent, not only because "illegitimate" girls were considered unlikely ever to find husbands, but because there was no other safe place for them to be, as long as their father was Italy's leading heretic. Upon taking the vows of the convent, Virginia took the name of Suor Maria Celeste and Livia took the name Suor Arcangela. [5-6, 44-45, 60] As different rules applied to boys, the son Vincenzio was "declared legitimate" by order of Galileo's friend, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and went to the University to study law. [6]

Two ideas are central to the story -- the incorrect geocentric theory of Aristotle and Ptolemy that the sun revolves around the earth (the Aristotelian or Ptolemaic model), and the correct heliocentric theory of Copernicus that the earth revolves around the sun (the Copernican model). To the Church, the discussion was closed. Quoting the Bible easily "proved" that the sun moved and the earth did not. Psalms 103:5 says that God "fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever." Solomon refers to the sun rising and going down. The sun must be in motion since Joshua describes a miracle in which God momentarily made the sun stand still. [7, 62, 77]

But Galileo was influenced by a remark of Cardinal Cesare Baronio to the effect that "the Bible is a book about how one goes to Heaven -- not how Heaven goes." [65] Galileo concluded, "I do not think it necessary to believe that the same God who gave us our senses, our speech, our intellect, would have put aside the use of these." He noted that the solar system is not even mentioned in the Bible, and added, "Surely if the intention of the sacred scribes had been to teach the people astronomy, they would not have passed over the subject so completely." [65] Dava Sobel sees Galileo's manner of interpreting Scripture as being aware of the "literary devices inserted into the Bible for the sake of the masses." [63] His daughter was supportive; the author writes, "She accepted Galileo's conviction that God had dictated the Holy Scriptures to guide men's spirits but proferred the unraveling of the universe as a challenge to their intelligence." [8]

Besides all that, Galileo had the radical idea that knowledge isn't best obtained by placing faith in what someone has said or wrote, but by performing experiments, collecting measurements, and applying logic [92-93] -- in effect, by asking nature a question.

Galileo was ordered twice by the Inquisition to travel to Rome to answer for his opinions. The first interrogation was in 1616, shortly after the pope appointed a panel of eleven theologians to vote on the Copernican theory. The panel voted unanimously that Copernican theory is heretical, and Galileo was served a summons. [77-78] Galileo and his prosecutor Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino came to an "agreement" that the claim of Copernicus was merely "hypothetical." The pope and cardinal inquisitor informed him that Copernicanism is in error, and ordered him to stop studying the motions of celestial bodies, because these motions were mentioned in the Psalms, and were therefore among the subjects that only the church had the right to interpret. He was, Dava Sobel writes, "silenced but exonerated." [81]

Galileo obeyed the church's 1616 instruction until 1623 when, in the author's words, "Galileo found reason to return to the Sun-centered universe like a moth to a flame." [7]

However, it was in 1633 that he was actually tried for heresy. Now, after the astronomer's publication of yet another banned book, the author writes, the pope "demanded that Galileo be interrogated 'on intent' -- to determine, technically by torture if necessary, his true purpose...." [269]. Sobel's book includes pages of the trial transcript, the reading of the sentence, and the defendant's final remarks.[270-277]

It was during the 1633 trial that Galileo began to equivocate, saying "... for I have neither maintained nor defended in that book the opinion that the Earth moves and that the Sun is stationary, but have rather demonstrated the opposite of the Copernican theory, and have shown that the arguments of Copernicus are weak and inconclusive." Such a defense, Sobel explains, "encapsulates the agony of his position.... he appreciated the danger he faced...." [253]

Also by Dava Sobel

Longitude :
The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time


Galileo also attempted to avoid a heresy conviction by confessing to the sin of vanity. He testified, "My error, then, has been -- and I confess it -- one of vainglorious ambition, and of pure ignorance and inadvertence." [258] "Those flaws that can be seen scattered in my book were not introduced through the cunning of an insincere intention, but rather through the vain ambition and satisfaction of appearing clever above and beyond the average among popular writers." [262]

The insincerity of his defense only made the inquisitors more angry, and all of them agreed "that Galileo had, at the very least, disobeyed direct orders." [263]

The result was that Galileo was ordered to spend the rest of his life in assigned houses. The pope later moved Galileo's residence from Siena to Arcetri, the author writes, "to make it harsher." [341] He would be "limited in his social contacts" and must "refrain everafter from all teaching activities." [341] "He was forbidden to receive any visitors who might discuss scientific ideas with him. Nor could he go anywhere except to the neighboring convent." [344]

Readers who enjoy the history of science need little encouragement to read Dava Sobel's book, but, more importantly, I wish that anyone who feels that some expressions of opinion which cause public outrage should be censored, or who is not yet thoroughly convinced of the need for separation of church and state, might read and contemplate this tragic story.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

B&W illustrations; 6-page timeline in appendix; 22-page 2-column index
Winner of the Christopher Award,
Named a notable book of the year by the New York Times , Entertainment Weekly ,
Esquire , and the American Library Association,
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award,
Rank #4 among bestselling science books at Amazon.com for 1999.

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Galileo's Daughter : A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
October 1999 - 442 Pages
Paperback
October 2000 - 420 Pages
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Unabridged
October 1999
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Abridged
October 1999

Notes about the book

Galileo's scientific work described in the book

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  • During 1588-1589 Galileo's father Vincenzio Galilei, a music teacher, performed experiments to determine how the length, tension and diameter of a vibrating string affects its musical pitch. Galileo assisted his father. This may have been what sparked his interest in physics. [16-18]
  • While teaching at the University of Pisa, Galileo dropped cannonballs of various masses from the Leaning Tower to test the hypothesis that the acceleration of a falling mass is independent of its mass. He wrote, "Imagine them joining while falling. Why should they double their speed as Aristotle claimed?" [19] The larger ball had slightly greater acceleration because of the reduced air resistance, therefore both Galileo and the Aristotelians felt themselves vindicated by these experiments. [20]
  • (1609) Galileo learned of the new Dutch invention called the spyglass or eyeglass, which we now call the telescope. Found ways to improve the power and clarity of lenses. [30-31]
  • (1611) Using the telescope, discovered four moons of Jupiter, disproving the church's position that the earth is the center of all orbital motions. Announced this discovery by writing a book Siderius Nuncius (the Sidereal Messenger or the Starry Messenger). [6, 33, 76]
  • The Senate of Venice considered use of the telescope for defense against invaders. The senators tested this proposal by going to the top of the highest bell towers and looking through telescopes at ships on the horizon. [31]
  • Used the telescope to compare stars to the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Announced that, unlike stars, which appear as points of light, "planets show their globes perfectly round and definitely bounded." [31-32]
  • Announced that neither the sun nor the moon is "perfect." The sun has sunspots and the moon has rough mountains. [53]
  • Used the telescope to project images of the sun onto white paper, and traced the sunspots to make records of their appearance. [58]
  • In his Treatise on Tides, Galileo argued incorrectly that tides are caused by the motion of the earth, causing the water to slosh back and forth. [73] He didn't concider the true cause of tides, the gravitation pull by the moon, which has nothing to do with the earth's motion. [75] Kepler went further, citing the moon's "affinity for water" as the cause of tides, which was a mystical description, but correct insofar as it cited the pull on the water by the moon. Newton, born in 1642, the year Galileo died, developed the idea of gravity, and published the universal law of gravitation in 1687. [75]
  • Showed that Venus has phases when viewed from the earth, consistent with Venus revolving around the sun. [74]
  • Corresponded with inventors of water pumps and other practical devices, often explaining to them why some of their proposed ideas couldn't work. [149-150]
  • Explained why we can't feel the motion of the earth, why this motion doesn't affect the paths of projectiles, etc. [153-156]
  • Solved a metallurgical problem which was causing the manufacture of defective church bells. [295-296]
  • Showed that the path of a projectile is a parabola, and that the vertical descent of a falling object in two time units is four times its descend in one time unit. [301-302]
  • Experimented with acceleration by studying a ball rolling down an inclined plane. [333-336]
  • After studying falling objects that have been released from rest, Galileo studied projectiles that have been propelled with initial velocities. [336-337]
  • Discovered that a projectile has maximum range if it has been fired at an angle of 45 degrees to the horizontal. [337]
  • Wrote an analysis about the center of gravity of a solid, and added it as an appendix to his Dialogues [351]

Galileo's supporters

  • In 1992, Pope John Paul II vindicated Galileo and renounced the church's persecution of him. [11]
  • Galileo acquired the friendship of the Grand Duke Fernando I because Galileo tutored their son Prince Cosimo in mathematics. The Grand Duke gave Galileo a lifetime appointment as court mathematician and philosopher. When Ferdinando died his son became Grand Duke Cosimo II. [29-36]
  • Astronomer Johannes Kepler lacked a telescope powerful enough to confirm Galileo's discovery, but wrote to him, "I may seem rash in accepting your claims so readily with no support of my own experiments, but why should I not believe a most learned mathematician, whose very simple style attests the soundness of his judgment?" [35-36]
  • Giovanni Bartoluzzi obtained telescope lenses for Galileo from a glassworks at Venice until a better supplier in Florence became available. [38]
  • Before Galileo's trial, the Carmelite priest Paolo Antonio Foscarini also wrote a book supporting the Copernican theory. The Inquisition banned Foscarini's book and ordered the arrest of its publisher. [79]
  • In addition to giving Galileo years of moral support, Maria Celeste assisted with manuscript preparation. [175-176]
  • Prince Cesi advocated publication of Galileo's writings on sunspots. [179]
  • Ambassidor Niccolini wrote to the cardinals on Galileo's behalf, despite the Pope's warnings to him not to interfere with the heresy investigation. [240-241]
  • Cardinal Francesco Barberini refused to sign the 1633 report of the Inquisition convicting Galileo of upholding a doctrine contrary to the Scriptures and sentencing him to imprisonment. [275]
  • After the church banned Galileo's Dialogues in Italy, publishers in Germany and Holland were willing to print the book. [350]
  • While Galileo was under house arrest in Arcetri, nearly blind due to cataracts and glaucoma, 16-year-old Vincenzio Viviani read and wrote for him. [358]
  • After Galileo designed a new kind of clock regulated by a pendulum, his son Vincenzio built it for him. [358-359]
  • In 1641 Galileo's former student Benedetto Castelli tried unsuccesfully to get Galileo's sentence of house arrest commuted. [359]
  • Castelli's former student, Evangelista Torricelli, who called himself a "Galileist," corresponded with Galileo, and later moved into Galileo's house. [361] The author writes, "As he lay dying for more than two months, Galileo had time to dictate to Torricelli some thoughts in dialogue on mathematical ratios." [361]

Galileo's opponents

  • Afrer her husband Grand Duke Fernando I died, Grand Dutchess Cristina publicly accused Galileo and Castelli of contradicting the Bible. [62-67]
  • Dominican priest Tommaso Cassini read copies of letters that Galileo had written to Castelli, and then denounced Galileo from the pulpit, calling him a "practitioner of diabolical arts." [65-66] Cassini's superiors required him to apologize to Galileo. [66-67]
  • Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, who believed that it is heresy to say that the earth moves, interrogated Galileo in 1616 and prosecuted him in 1633. Bellarmino had earlier prosecuted Giordano Bruno. [75-81]
  • (1616) Galileo and Monsignor Francesco Ingoli "agreed to write down their respective positions." After Ingoli wrote out his anti-Copernican position based on theology, the church's edict prevented Galileo from writing his reply. [139]
  • Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who later became Pope Urban VIII, admired Galileo [8, 43, 95], but later refused to meet with him [192-193], refused to read Galileo's Dialogues [223-224], and allowed the 1633 heresy conviction written by the cardinals to stand. [263] Dava Sobel writes, "Even if Urban's former love for Galileo had remained untarnished, instead of being tainted by betrayal, he could not now deny the obvious. The accused had defended a condemned doctrine. Nor could Urban risk any overt leniency toward Galileo, considering how the Thirty Years' War had raised doubts about his own guardianship of the Catholic faith. And no matter how much Urban admired the achievements of Galileo's lifetime, he had never shared his outlook on the ultimate goal of scientific discovery. Whereas Galileo believed that Nature followed a Divine order, Urban refused to limit his omnipotent God to logical consistency." [263]

Book notes by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

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Galileo's Daughter : A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
October 1999 - 442 Pages
Paperback
October 2000 - 420 Pages
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Unabridged
October 1999
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Abridged
October 1999

Book description from the publisher

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 being 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 Longitude, Galileo's Daughter is an unforgettable story.

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Galileo's Daughter : A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
October 1999 - 442 Pages
Paperback
October 2000 - 420 Pages
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Unabridged
October 1999
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Abridged
October 1999

Book review by Amazon.com reprinted with permission

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

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Galileo's Daughter : A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
October 1999 - 442 Pages
Paperback
October 2000 - 420 Pages
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Unabridged
October 1999
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Abridged
October 1999

Table of contents for the hardcover edition

Table of ContentsV
Map - Italy in 1603XI
  
Part 1 -- To Florence  
  
1. She who was so precious to you 3
2. This grand book the universe 13
3. Bright stars speak of your virtues 25
4. To have the truth seen and recognized 37
5. In the very face of the sun 49
6. Observant executrix of God's commands 59
7. The malice of my persecutors 72
8. Conjecture here among shadows 84
  
Part 2 -- On Bellosguardo  
  
9. How our father is favored 99
10. To busy myself in your service 100
11. What we require above all else 122
12. Because of our zeal 133
13. Through my memory of their eloquence 143
14. A small and trifling body 153
15. On the right path, by the grace of God 162
16. The tempest of our many torments 175
  
Part 3 -- In Rome  
  
17. While seeking to immortalize your fame 187
18. Since the Lord chastises us with these whips 197
19. The hope of having you always near 206
20. That I should be begged to publish such a work 226
  
Part 4 -- In Care of the Tuscan Embassy, Villa Medici, Rome  
  
21. How anxiously I live, awaiting word from you 231
22. In the chambers of the Holy Office of the Inquisition 242
23. Vainglorious ambition, pure ignorance, and inadvertence 255
24. Faith vested in the miraculous Madonna of Impruneta 264
25. Judgment passed on your book and your person 273
  
Part 5 -- At Siena  
  
26. Not knowing how to refuse him the keys 285
27. Terrible destruction on the feast of San Lorenzo 295
28. Recitation of the penitential psalms 306
29. The book of life, or, A prophet accepted in his own land 316
  
Part 6 -- From Arcetri  
  
30. My soul and its longing 331
31. Until I have this from your lips 340
32. As I struggle to understand 348
33. The memory of the sweetnesses 357
  
In Galileo's Time 369
Florentine Weights, Measures, Currency 375
Bibliography 376
Notes 383
Appreciation 294
Art Credits 396
Index 399

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Galileo's Daughter : A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel --
Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Hardcover
October 1999 - 442 Pages
Paperback
October 2000 - 420 Pages
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Unabridged
October 1999
Audio Book on Cassette Tapes - Abridged
October 1999