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

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
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's review
Jan 07, 2012

liked it
Recommended for: People interested in lives of great scientists, astronomy, historical non-fiction
Read from January 21 to 28, 2012 — I own a copy

"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 tribulations, the consolations his daughter provided through his tough times and very often,a claustrophobic view of Maria Celeste's life as a cloistered nun. The letters by themselves aren't extremely interesting (except for Suor Maria Celeste's acknowledgement of Galileo as "Most illustrious Father" or "Most beloved and illustrious Father"! I mean how many of us refer to our dear dad this way anymore!). They present the day to day banality of the convent life, her hardships, her constant demands for material and monetary support from her father, her resignation at not being as intelligent as her father and lauding his merits, while constantly asking for advice (That is extremely modest of her, considering it was she who finished his final manuscripts for him). While the letters brought a relatively unknown person to life, and showed Galileo as a loving father, they did break up the narrative often enough to annoy me after a certain point.
Galileo placed his two young daughters at the San Mateo convent, where they devoted themselves to the lives of cloistered nuns and lived their lives in abject poverty, despite the loving financial and emotional support of their father. The older daughter took upon the name 'Maria Celeste' as an ode to her father's devotion to celestial objects and it is through her letters that we get a glimpse of a daughter's relationship with her famous father, and their loving support to each other.
Unfortunately for us,Galileo's replies to his daughter were never found. Therefore,what could have been a incredible dialogue between the two, is reduced to a disparate monologue of letters, in which a daughter keeps asking her father for financial help and in return provides him with love and unconditional support in the light of his run-ins with the Church. It made me think of( and be thankful for) the ease with which the world communicates now, and it was rather unnerving to think of the number of days (or even weeks) Galileo and Suor Maria Celeste must have waited to get their letters. It also made me lament the lost art of writing such long heartfelt letters what with modern communication lingo that includes abbreviations such as "XOXO", "<3", "Waddup" in the interest of time. People keep in touch often and therefore have the liberty to shorten their communication! (Frequency is inversely proportional to wavelength, anyone?)
Anyway,I thought "Galileo's daughter" was an interesting, well researched book that portrayed Galileo as a man of science who defied the Church, while being deeply religious at the same time and who tried to reconcile the two all his life. At the end of it, you might notice that people have been struggling for the same things through the centuries. Unrighteous censorship, religious freedom and the right to free speech to name a few.
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