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

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  20,508 Ratings  ·  1,265 Reviews
Inspired by long fascination with Galileo and the surviving letters of his daughter, a cloistered nun, Sobel has written a biography of the one Einstein called "the father of modern physics--indeed of modern science altogether." Galileo's Daughter presents a portrait of a person hitherto lost to history, described by Galileo as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness ...more
Paperback, 420 pages
Published November 1st 2000 by Penguin Books (NYC) (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

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Apr 24, 2008 Brad rated it it was amazing
What a spectacular book! My advice to you is to violently discard the grossly inferior book you are currently wasting your time with for this one instead. Toss it aside like the trash it is. This is a far better substitute. Do yourself some good instead.

The mythology of Galileo, as truly the first modern scientist, is, of course, both revered and legendary. His condemnation by the Church, his cannon-balls from Pisa Tower and his ingenious improvements on the telescope--well known stories, to be
Einstein said of Galileo that he was "the father of modern physics - of modern science altogether". We think of him as the father of astronomy. But how much do we really know about his life? The answer, surprisingly, is quite a lot. This book, entitled Galileo's Daughter is a dual biography, both of Galileo and of his eldest daughter, a cloistered nun of the Poor Clares. It is also in part a fascinating chronicle of a 17th Century clash between Science and Catholic doctrine; arguably the most hi ...more
Will Byrnes
Well, it’s really about Galileo. The daughter thing is a hook, and I found that to be the weakest part of the book. Galileo, in this historical memoir, has had three children by a woman not his wife. The daughters are thus unmarriageable, and are sent to a convent. The daughter of the title sends him letters, usually including requests for money. This book provides considerable detail about the travails the great scientist endured in his quest to explain the world. The Catholic Church is the pre ...more
Black Elephants
Feb 17, 2009 Black Elephants rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I don't normally read non-fiction, but for the last few months, I've found myself in a fiction funk. I can't finish any fiction. I wonder if it's because I've hit a point where all prose, themes, motifs, etc., seem the same and are, therefore, uninteresting to me. For someone who has relied exclusively upon fiction to add zest to her literary life, this turn of events is really distressing.

However, my non-fiction choice turned out to be quite fun. Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel was surprising,
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Feb 12, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Ultimate Reading List - History
So, given the title you'd think this would be about Galileo's daughter, Sister Maria Celeste, who he called "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me." Perhaps you might have thought that through her eyes--this account is partly based upon and includes several of her letters--you might gain insight into the mind of the man Einstein called "the father of modern physics--indeed of modern science altogether." Given she's described of "exquisite mind" perhaps yo ...more
Apr 25, 2008 Becky rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in science and history
As the daughter of a physicist, I couldn't resist this book. It is a biography of both Galileo and his older daughter, who was a nun in a local monastery. Her letters to Galileo are the foundation of the book. I enjoyed reading the history of Galileo's trial for heresy and also the day-to-day events that mostly comprise his daughter's letters. A fascinating look into the life of Galileo and 17th-century Italy.
After 150 pages I decided if this book didn’t end by smashing the patriarchy, I didn’t want to read anymore. And since it would end in 1642, I gave up. Say what you will about ‘the times,’ it’s impossible to buy the idea that a well-off, well-educated, intelligent and self-respecting public figure can’t know he’s participating in screwing over half of humanity.

Back in the days of Galileo, the author tells us, it was atypical for (male) academics to marry. And so it was with Galileo and his cont
Galileo, Galileo, Galileo Figaro: MAGNIFICO-O-O-O!


My biggest question, after reading this book, is what did Galileo believe?

Science has canonized him as one of their patron saints - and rightfully so. The man was a genius. But he was also a good Catholic - or at least he appeared to be. When the church told him to do something, he did it.

Yes, the church treated him completely unfairly. And when one is arguing against those speaking with the authority of God, it's difficult
Jul 27, 2007 Anne rated it it was ok
This is a biography of Galileo, told in part through letters written to him by his illegitimate daughter, a cloistered nun and Galileo's confidante. Over 125 letters written by her survive, though all of the letters from Galileo to his daughter have reportedly been lost or destroyed. While the familial relationship was interesting, I didn't feel as if the correspondence added much to the narrative, and it seemed as if most of the biographical information about Galileo came from other sources. As ...more
Sep 12, 2009 Erin rated it it was ok
I was really disappointed in this book. I knew when I purchased it that it wasn't actually about Galileo's daughter, that the story was almost entirely Galileo's. Still, I figured the the father/daughter relationship would provide some important framework for the story. It didn't really. This is a fairly dry biography of Galileo and the personal and professional events that shaped his life. There's not much more to it.

In the book, Galileo's daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, having been consigned to
Apr 29, 2015 Silvana rated it really liked it
Recommended to Silvana by: Capitu
Galileo had a daughter? So what? That question may be raised, which is understandable. Besides, all famous people do procreate, right? What makes Galileo’s Daughter so significant anyway? Well, if you read this book, you surely will change your mind.

Dava Sobel again amazed me with her skill in combining history, science and human relations into one book. Not many authors could do such thing, I daresay. She successfully wove this story of a brave, intelligent, resourceful young woman, who had a g
Feb 04, 2012 Pallavi rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in lives of great scientists, astronomy, historical non-fiction
"Galileo's daughter" is the biography of the great philosopher and astronomer, with some loving letters by his daughter interspersed throughout the narrative. I have been reading a lot of biographies lately (something I had sworn, I would never have an interest in), and this one is unique because it primarily focuses on the relationship between Galileo and his daughter and is essentially a biography of both of them.
Sobel presents a very vivid description of Galileo's life, his trials and tribu
Jennifer (JC-S)
Feb 14, 2014 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘There was only one trial of Galileo, and yet it seems there were a thousand –‘

In 1633, the astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was tried and convicted of heresy by the Holy Office of the Inquisition for the crime of having defended the idea that the sun is the centre of the universe around which the earth and planets revolve. Galileo was punished by being placed under house arrest and ordered to publicly affirm his belief in the earth-centred universe. Galileo’s story is the stuff of legend.
Jul 22, 2014 Tom rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
It's okay as far as it goes but I kept feeling frustrated when Sobel passed up opportunity after opportunity to shed more light on some fascinating aspect of Galileo's life and times, I suspect through shallowness of research. It was like taking a guided tour of some great historical building, only for the guide to rush you past the most interesting looking rooms.

The idea of using his daughter's letters is a very good one and serves to add context for the cares of everyday life and the ways of s
Beth Cato
Apr 10, 2012 Beth Cato rated it really liked it
Shelves: in, 2010, history, nonfiction
Every year I like to read at least one nonfiction book that educates me about an era or people I'm otherwise ignorant of. Last year I read Nathaniel's Nutmeg, a book that has forever changed my perspective about paying $2 for a jar of nutmeg at the grocery store. This year I selected Galileo's Daughter. I admit, I didn't know much about the man other than that he was the father of modern sciences and was censored by the Catholic church, but I didn't know the details of that.[return][return]This ...more
Jun 12, 2016 Ari rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
make no mistake, this is a biography of galileo, not of his daughter. and yet, she is a very important part of his life, mainly spiritual support. i like to read scientists' lifes in this period in history when the church prosecuted anyone who contraved the holy scripture. although galileo was punished (not physically, more like house arrest and his works banned) he couldn't help keep writing and exploring ideas that weren't always accepted or even allowed. he was a prolific man and a very relig ...more
Mar 30, 2009 Kaara rated it liked it
This book was clearly a labor of love, well researched and with sympathetic, very human depictions of Galileo, his daughter Sister Maria Celeste, and other folks. I learned a lot about Galileo's unbelievable discoveries, his equally important and forward-thinking contributions to the scientific community in terms of process and rigor, his family, and the politics, culture, and technology of the times he lived in. All very interesting. But the angle of this book, of Galileo's life being viewed th ...more
Jun 07, 2008 Loni rated it did not like it
It is quite rare that I quit reading a book, but today this one falls in to that category. It has taken me 2 weeks to get 100 pages into it, and I still can't figure out why it was recommended. If someone has read it and has some great insight as to why I should pickup it up off the floor, where I tossed it, let me know! If any 'friends' want to give it a try let me know.. it is yours!!
Angie Fehl
Oct 16, 2016 Angie Fehl rated it liked it
3.5 stars

Likely you're already pretty familiar with the name Galileo Galilei, but if not, here's a rundown for you. Galileo is now known as being one of the most famous (possibly THE most famous?) astronomers and mathematicians of the 17th century. His work and studies also earned him the titles of physicist, inventor, and professor (teaching courses in mathematics and military architecture at various Italian universities, even teaching some of the Medici children for a time).

What Galileo might
My primary interest when I picked up this book was Galileo. Namely, I expected to get from his daughter's letters a more in-depth insight into Galileo's scientific endeavours. Instead, the focus of the letters is on the father - daughter relationship and the life in the convict of San Mateo, where Galileo put his two out-of-wedlock daughters while they were children. Though the letters do not shed any light on Galileo as a philosopher and a scientist, they are interesting to a certain degree bec ...more
Nov 30, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book, and just the thing to cleanse the mental palate after inflicting Nancy Kress' An Alien Light on myself. Galileo's story is really at the crux of the transition from Aristotelian physics to what we now call Newtonian or classical physics. It was Galileo and his contemporaries who finally broke the stranglehold that Aristotle had on philosophy in the West and improved on him. Today we are generally told a very few things about Galileo:

- He was essentially the first to use
Jean Poulos
Sep 30, 2013 Jean Poulos rated it really liked it
This is a well researched historical novel about the relationship between Galileo and his eldest daughter Virginia Galilei (1600-1634). Apparently Galileo did not marry Marina Gamba of Venice even though they had 3 children together. The son Vincenzo was legitimized and studied law at the University of Pisa. The two girls were deemed to be un-marriageable so were sent off to become nuns when they were 11 years old. Virginia became Suor Maria Celeste and her sister Livia became Suor Archangela. T ...more
Apr 29, 2016 Mitchell rated it really liked it
I thought this was a fantastic story. Its a story about the lasting bonds of affection and love between a daughter and her father. Its also a riveting overview of the life and times of the great astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician, Galileo Galilei.

As Sobel tells Mr. Galileo's story, she gracefully weaves in extant letters from Galileo's daughter, Virginia Galilei. Later in life, as a nun, Virginia Galilei adopts the name, Suor Maria Celeste - a fitting tribute to her
Oct 03, 2013 Sean rated it liked it
Galileo's Daughter tells the story of Galileo Galilei and his relationship with his oldest daughter, who entered a convent at the age of thirteen. Though the story is predominantly about Galileo and his life and struggles, it is told in part from the perspective of Suor Maria Celeste in the letters that she writes regularly to her father.

Galileo, born in 1564 in Italy, went on to become the foremost scientist of his day, inventing the first telescope and arguing for the Copernican physical view
Feb 19, 2014 Joy rated it liked it
Recommended to Joy by: Roopa
This was an interesting (and very detailed and well-researched) biography of Galileo mixed in with details about every day life in 17th-century Italy from the surviving letters from his oldest daughter, a nun in a local monastery. The title implies that the book is about her, but really, it's about him.

It was fascinating to read about Galileo's trial for heresy and how he tried to balance his Catholic faith (which meant abiding by the Pope's edicts) and the conflicting scientific observations he
Bill Tucker
Nov 14, 2009 Bill Tucker rated it really liked it
The dual poles of filial love and dogmatic obstinacy offer a unique perspective into the tragic life and death of this titan of the early-modern world.
Sep 30, 2012 Edward rated it really liked it
Most people vaguely know of Galileo, the 16th century Italian astronomer who overturned the centuries-old Ptolemaic belief that the sun revolves around earth and subsequently found himself in trouble with the Catholic Church. What Sobel does in this book is to put a specific human face on the man, to show how, despite his brilliance, he was a man of his time, a devout Catholic, and a man like most of us who had worries about money, the welfare of his children, his health. Galileo’s daughter, a c ...more
Mar 26, 2016 Jo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
To find yourself a little in love with the mind of a seventeenth century mathematician and philosopher can come as a surprise to the average reader such as myself. How one man can contribute quite so much to our understanding of the world and beyond is awe-inspiring as is making the experience of reading about him so enjoyable.

Dava Sobel does an excellent job of helping us to see Galileo the person, partly through the obvious high esteem he was held in by so many from Popes to servants, partly i
Apr 14, 2012 Mike rated it it was amazing
It seems ludicrous in today's age of technology and incremental achievements that one man could ever accomplish as much as Galileo, who discovered almost half of the planets we know of today and rubbished claims held scientifically for thousands of years.

Galileo Galilei was born into a time and a place that could not have been more perfect for him. At the turn of the 17th century, much of Europe had already cast off the oppressive cloak of ignorance held fast by the Catholic Church for the previ
Angus Mcfarlane
Aug 20, 2012 Angus Mcfarlane rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, history
Galileo has been the popular focus of the origin of church-science antipathy, and to the extent that he catalysts the modern scientific method this is perhaps justified, but there is so much more to the story. In this book, a more sympathetic view of the church's response to Galileo's promotion of a heliocentric universe is presented. Amidst the reformation turmoil taking place in Europe, the acceptance of a new teaching was a difficult case for a politically constricted pope to approve, and ind ...more
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Dava Sobel is an accomplished writer of popular expositions of scientific topics. A 1964 graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Ms. Sobel attended Antioch College and the City College of New York before receiving her bachelor of arts degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1969. She holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from the University of Bath, in England, and M ...more
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“But 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, to teach us instead such things as with their help we could find out for ourselves, particularly in the case of these sciences of which there is not the smallest mention in the Scriptures; and, above all, in astronomy, of which so little notice is taken that the names of none of the planets are mentioned. 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.” 1 likes
“with its graceful language and poetic conceit, and even more because it expressed his own philosophy of science. To wit: As earnestly as men may seek to understand the workings of the universe, they must remember that God is not hampered by their limited logic—that all observed effects may have been wrought by Him in any one of an infinite number of omnipotent ways, and these must ever evade mortal comprehension.” 0 likes
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