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

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  28,989 ratings  ·  1,600 reviews
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.

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
Paperback, 420 pages
Published November 1st 2000 by Penguin Books (NYC) (first published October 1st 1999)
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Will Byrnes
Dava Sobel - image from Physics World

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
Bionic Jean
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
Apr 09, 2008 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
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
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 15, 2012 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
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
DNF around 30%. The title of this book is misleading: it's really a book about Galileo and only secondarily about his daughter, who was clearly the Human Interest Angle to illuminate the life of a Great Man. Despite his devout Catholicism, Galileo had three illegitimate children with his mistress/housekeeper. While Galileo had his son legitimized, both daughters were consigned as young girls to a convent, where they lived in abject poverty and struggled with poor health. He did send occasional g ...more
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 difficul
Apr 07, 2008 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. ...more
Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love is akin to a work of biographical archeology, for in gathering documentation for the idea that became this book, the intense linkage between Galileo Galilei & his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste Galilei, the author went to live in a convent, attempting to delve deeply into the particular life of a Roman-Catholic cloistered nun in Italy, a rather foreign domain for a Jewish woman from New York City. Her compilation of de ...more
Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore
This book is more the story of Galileo than his daughter, but anchored for the most part around the correspondence between the two, or rather what has survived of it which is only her letters to him but not his to her (These I think were destroyed by her order because of the controversy surrounding his work). Galileo had three children (all illegitimate) but while his son was ‘legitimized’, his daughters both spent their lives cloistered (more so as no grooms could be found for them), a sad refl ...more
Dec 29, 2009 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
Mar 27, 2012 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
Aug 14, 2013 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
Jennifer (JC-S)
Jan 27, 2014 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 27, 2007 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
Aug 22, 2009 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
I think I prefer this book to Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time which is also good, but not quite as captivating.

Galileo's oldest child, born of his illicit liaison with the beautiful Marina Gamba of Venice, was thirteen years old when he placed her at the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri. He never married her mother, so he thought that the girl would be unmarriageable. Her given name was Virginia (after Galileo's sister), but when
Sep 14, 2012 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
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Galileo’s Daughter was written by Dava Sobel in 1999.

This book is first and foremost a historical narrative about Galileo. Galileo never married which was not uncommon amongst the educated class. Of his many children he was closest to his daughter Virginia, the daughter referenced in the title of the book, and his son Vivencio. Through her father’s influence Virginia became a nun at a convent near Florence. The author had access to a large number of letters that Virginia wrote to her father ove
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Why would a very good hearted and wise girl not be given any chance to use her mind but only her labor and live a very poor and unfulfilling life. Thus is the life of Suor Maria Celeste. Only finding a little happiness may be in knowing the happiness and contentment of those she loved and served. I am sure many a girl/women of human history has done so, willingly or unwillingly..Still I find it shocking that even the light of a very enlightened father cannot reduce the darkness of ignorance and ...more
Nov 30, 2011 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
Mar 30, 2009 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
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
This was a biography of Galileo. His daughter figures into it only because the author reprints letters that she sent her father from her convent (where he shipped her off to become a cloistered nun at age 13). This was OK -- I felt sooooo bad for Galileo having to fold before the inquisition and renounce his belief that the earth rotates around the sun---but it just wasn't nearly as good as the last book I read by this author, Longitude. Highly recommend the latter, but this one, while interesti ...more
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. A fascinating walk through the story of Galileo and his discoveries, as well as an exploration of how much of a key figure his cloistered daughter was in his life. It's aimed at a popular audience, and is very readable, even enthralling. I was engrossed in the story, and the characters were brought to life well.

Given the actions of some in the church, it's also written from a considerate and sympathetic point of view towards the Catholic church. This feels right, because of the faith
Pallavi Gambhire
Jan 07, 2012 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
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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, in, 2010, history
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 03, 2016 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 19, 2008 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!! ...more
Feisty Harriet
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
2.5 Stars. This is definitely a biography of Galileo and not his daughter, although she is mentioned a bit (as ANY decent biographer would do when writing about a brilliant scientist who also had a genius child). So, because of the misleading title I was mostly disappointed, despite Galileo's contributions in physics and science. ...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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18 likes · 2 comments
“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.” 6 likes
“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.” 4 likes
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