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

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
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Nov 30, 11

Read in November, 2011

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 a telescope on the night sky and observe new phenomena, such as the moons of Jupiter or the roughness of the moon or a dim impression of Saturn's rings.

- He was condemned by the Catholic Church for espousing Copernicus' hypothesis that the Earth circles the Sun and that the daily motion of celestial objects is caused by the Earth's rotation, rather than the motion of Aristotle and Ptolemy's spheres.

That's all I knew about him for many years. I had grasped more details in the last several years before reading this book, but it gives me an overflowing wealth of information about his life and a much better idea of the history and details of the controversy that led to his trial in Rome. Obviously I recommend anyone and everyone read this book for themselves and get these details.

I actually saw this author speak, largely about this book, in Indianapolis in 2008 or 2009, so I snapped the book up right away when I saw it at a used bookstore in Honolulu (overcrowded baggage be damned). What I find most amazing is that this woman is Jewish, yet she sympathetically advances the thesis that Galileo was throughout his life a staunch Catholic who made himself enemies by his sharp wit and criticism of establishment (i.e. Aristotelian, which was nearly everyone at the time) academics, who were able to bring about his condemnation after many years, while he retained many friends, also intellectually committed Catholics, who were convinced of his sincerity and that his interpretations of his discoveries were perfectly reconcilable with the faith.

I will end by noting that Galileo's Daughter is his eldest daughter, an intelligent and committed Poor Clare with whom Galileo corresponded often. Most of the correspondence Dava included in the book is about the daily human affairs of early seventeenth century Italy and gives a comforting picture of the humanity of both Galileo, Suor Maria, and the people around them.
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message 1: by Miriam (last edited Dec 05, 2011 12:12PM) (new)

Miriam this woman is Jewish, yet she sympathetically advances the thesis that Galileo was throughout his life a staunch Catholic who made himself enemies by his sharp wit and criticism of establishment (i.e. Aristotelian, which was nearly everyone at the time) academics, who were able to bring about his condemnation after many years, while he retained many friends, also intellectually committed Catholics, who were convinced of his sincerity and that his interpretations of his discoveries were perfectly reconcilable with the faith.

That is what anyone who cares more about historical veracity than promoting an oppositional model of science and religion will say. In fact, members of the church hierarchy (including the sadly defamed Cardinal Bellarmine) went out of their way to try to avoid having to confront him.

Also, if you are interested in Jews talking about Catholicism, I recommend Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age by Ruth Harris.


message 2: by Ally (new)

Ally Is this the one you picked up at our house?


Paul Ally wrote: "Is this the one you picked up at our house?"

No, we got this at a secondhand bookstore in Honolulu, I think.


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