Book Review - Galileo's Daughter

by @edent | #

Galileo's Daughter - Dava Sobel

A serene view of an Italian city.
The realization that Galileo had fathered two nuns made me question everything I’d been taught about him in school. What if he did everything he did as a believing Catholic? I wondered. Isn’t that a much more nuanced, interesting story? And how would his daughter nuns have reacted to his unorthodox notions about the heavens? To his trial for heresy by the Roman Inquisition?

This is a quick biography of Galileo's later years. The titular daughter, sadly, is only present in a few letters and - to my modern way of thinking - is an occasionally obsequious and somewhat inconsequential character.

Reading the (translated) correspondence from her to her father does give us a glimpse into her life. This is no Tracy Chevalier-esque work of fiction, heartily dramatising the life of a forgotten protagonist - but a careful examination of the life and works of the master scientist, reflected in his daughter's eyes.

The court intrigue and scientific feuds are well documented. As are the political ambitions of the Galilei family. The tragedy of religious blindness and vindictiveness of the faithful is on full display. It lays bare the pointlessness of faith and the horrors of Renaissance Europe.

A superb portrayal, peppered with illustrations and anecdotes. I can't help feeling slightly short-changed by the title though.

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