Summary and book reviews of Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

Galileo's Daughter

A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

By Dava Sobel

Galileo's Daughter
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  • Hardcover: Oct 1999,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2000,
    432 pages.

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Book Summary

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 man Albert Einstein called "the father of modern physics--indeed of modern science altogether." Galileo's Daughter also presents a stunning portrait of a person hitherto lost to history, described by her father as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."

The son of a musician, Galileo Gahlei (1564-1642) tried at first to enter a monastery before engaging the skills that made him the foremost scientist of his day. Though he never left Italy, his inventions and discoveries were heralded around the world. Most sensationally, his telescopes allowed him to reveal a new reality in the heavens and to reinforce the astounding argument that the Earth moves around the Sun. For this belief, he was brought before the Holy Office of the Inquisition, accused of heresy, and forced to spend his last years under house arrest.

Of Galileo's three illegitimate children, the eldest best mirrored his own brilliance, industry, and sensibility, and by virtue of these qualities became his confidante. Born Virginia in 1600, she was thirteen when Galileo placed her in a convent near him in Florence, where she took the most appropriate name of Suor Maria Celeste. Her loving support, which Galileo repaid in kind, proved to be her father's greatest source of strength throughout his most productive and tumultuous years. Her presence, through letters which Sobel has translated from their original Italian and masterfully woven into the narrative, graces her father's life now as it did then.

Galileo's Daughter 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. Moving between Galileo's grand public life and Maria Celeste's sequestered world, Sobel illuminates the Florence of the Medicis and the papal court in Rome during the pivotal era when humanity's perception of its place in the cosmos was being overturned. In that same time, while the bubonic plague wreaked its terrible devastation and the Thirty Years' War tipped fortunes across Europe, one man sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope.

With all the human drama and scientific adventure that distinguished Longitude, Galileo's Daughter is an unforgettable story.

She who was
So precious
to you


Most Illustrious Lord Father

We are terribly saddened by the death of your cherished sister, our dear aunt; but our sorrow at losing her is as nothing compared to our concern for your sake, because your suffering will be all the greater, Sire, as truly you have no one else left in your world, now that she, who could not have been more precious to you, has departed, and therefore we can only imagine how you sustain the severity of such a sudden and completely unexpected blow. And while I tell you that we share deeply in your grief, you would do well to draw even greater comfort from contemplating the general state of human misery, since we are all of us here on Earth like strangers and wayfarers, who soon will be bound for our true homeland in Heaven, where there is perfect happiness, and where we must hope that your sister's blessed soul has already gone. Thus, for the love of God, we pray you, Sire, to be consoled and to put yourself in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What impressions or ideas did you have about Galileo before reading Sobels book? Did the book change any of your opinions, and if so, how?

  2. In what ways did the insertion of the full-length letters of Suor Maria Celeste, and the excerpts from the Rule of Saint Clare and the testimony from Galileo's trial, affect the narrative flow of the story?

  3. If you have ever carried on an in-depth correspondence with a friend or family member, compare that experience to keeping in touch by telephone or e-mail. Is long-hand letter writing becoming a lost art?<

  4. How would you characterize Galileo's behavior as a father to each of his children? Was Galileo's relationship with Suor Maria Celeste an ideal father-daughter ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Despite its title, this impressive book proves to be less the story of Galileo's elder daughter, the oldest of his three illegitimate children, and more the story of Galileo himself and his trial before the Inquisition for arguing that Earth moves around the Sun. That familiar tale is given a new slant by Sobel's translation for the first time into English of the 124 surviving letters to Galileo by his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, a Clarisse nun who died at age 33....It's a wholly involving tale, a worthy follow-up (after four years) to Sobel's surprise bestseller, Longitude.

Kirkus Reviews

Sobel, author of the bestselling Longitude (1995), has elegantly translated the letters Galileo's eldest child, Virginia, wrote to him and uses them as a leitmotif to illuminate their deep mutual love, religious faith, and dedication to science. .... Sobel provides a few correctives to tradition and fills out the cast of personae who were Galileo's chief defenders and enemies. But it's the deft apposition of the devoted and pious letters of Suor Maria Celeste that add not only verisimilitude, but depth to the character of the writer and her father--- revealed as a man of great intellect as well as religious faith and loving kindness. Alas, his letters to her are lost.

Reader Reviews
wardo

Galileo's Daughter, a story of love, faith, and science
An amazing read. This is the story of Galileo's life in the context of his eldest daughter's beautiful prose. The story shines the intimacy of this mans relationship with his up-until-now unknown daughter and at the same time exposes the relevance ...   Read More

Imjetta

Galileos Daughter
I loved this book! It starts out slow, and I had to put it down to ponder every now and again, but I love it! So rich in detail and history. I learned so much about the time period as well as about Galileo himself. I've always admired him, but now I ...   Read More

meac

extremely interesting book, with great storyline, makes and exellent read

Q.T
ITS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BORING

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