As astronauts and scientists explore deeper into space and introduce the possibility of landing on Mars, it is easy to forget when man pondered how the earth moved. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the scientist whose discoveries about the heavens caused accusations of heresy, is revered in a unique new biography by Dava Sobel, author of Longitude. This book is not only a biography of Galileo, but that of his daughter, and attempts successfully to complete the picture of the scientist as a religious and family-oriented man.

Of all of Galileo's children, his daughter, Maria Celeste, mirrored his own brilliance, which is evident in the detailed letters that for the first time have been translated into English. These letters, many of which were destroyed or lost, bring to life Galileo's personality and conflicts. Maria Celeste was the product of Galileo's illicit relationship with Marina Gamba of Venice. Because she was born out of wedlock, she was therefore unable to be married, and the convent became the natural place for her to find a home. She and Galileo, however, never lost contact. She sewed his collars, made him candied citrons, and offered advice on his latest projects. Somehow, Maria Celeste found a compromise between her role as nun and as the greatest supporter of the man whom many deemed the Catholic church's greatest enemy.

The first man to declare that the earth was not the center of the universe, Galileo would forever battle others and himself about the Heavens he revered as a good Catholic and the heavens he revealed through his telescope. The hardship and ridicule Galileo faced may cause readers to reflect on scientific findings today that many believe to be against the principles allowed by nature and religion. Bringing to life the entire era, Sobel shows us the importance of Galileo's patrons, the Medici family. She also writes about the hardships of that time, including the bubonic plague and the Thirty Years' War.

Galileo's Daughter, a biography unlike any other written of Galileo, could serve as an invaluable text for a western civilization course or for anyone interested in knowing more about the world around them. After all, Galileo's history is also our history.

Charlotte Pence is an English professor at Belmont University in Nashville.

 

 

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