Politics mingles with post-Reformation Europe in Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love. The book as written by Dava Sobel offers the reader a baited hook in terms of the close relationship between iconic scientist and Roman Catholic Galileo Galilei and his eldest daughter and cloistered nun, Maria Celeste. While the book certainly offers crumbs to the bond between these two based on the limited surviving correspondence, the truth of the matter is that the book justifiably brings more focus into the life and times of Galileo.
The book does an engaging job of laying out the career, travels, brilliance, and creativity of the scientist that we know as the biggest influence in arguing for the sun as the center of the solar system. The many distresses that Galilei endured in his efforts to explain the nature of the world came into sharp exposition and challenge by the Roman Catholic church of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in and around Rome.
The Roman Catholic church was a largely political animal in this time that had suffered challenges to its political and spiritual authority spurred by the Protestant Reformation as notably instigated by theologian Martin Luther, theologian and journalist John Calvin, and King Henry VIII of England. Galileo suffered from findings of heresy and censorship as a response to that Reformation through the Roman Catholic church’s Counter-Reformation efforts. The story of Galileo’s one trial at the hands of the Roman Inquisition makes up a more forceful component to Galileo’s Daughter, in my opinion, than does the telling of the relationship between Marie Celeste and Galileo.
Galileo’s Daughter drew me in from the beginning and held my interest throughout the telling. The hook for me was having a front row, biographical telling of the human story of who Galileo Galilei was to those that loved him, were his friends or many dependents, and those that ultimately were there at the end or vacated their sense of decency, open-mindedness, and political courage in the face of Pope Urban VIII’s inquisitor, Father Vincenzo Maculano da Firenzuola.
The 1633 heresy conviction that resulted in house arrest for the remainder of Galileo‘s life (he outlives his daughter Maria Celeste) is captured well with tension, interest, and excellently with the hook of Maria Celeste’s loving interest. The earlier telling of Galileo’s telescopic inventions, motion experiments (including in Pisa), and increasingly earned influence were phenomenal. I think that I concur with one of author Dava Sobel‘s earlier arguments; namely, Galileo Galilei was able to reconcile science with his religion. That Galilei was clearly ahead of western culture in reconciling these two, then as now, is a story still with us today.
My overall grade for Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love is 4-stars out of 5.
Matt – Thursday, March 30, 2017