"Galileo's Daughter" An Intimate Look at a Remarkable Life & Time

"Who better than Galileo to propound the most stunning reversal in perception ever to have jarred intelligent thought: We are not the center of the universe. The immobility of our world is an illusion. We spin. We speed through space. We circle the Sun. We live on a wandering star."

Such is a taste of the delicious and erudite prose that awaits the reader of this remarkably luminous and learned book.

"Galileo's Daughter" by Dava Sobel is subtitled, "A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love." Indeed it is about the life of one of history's greatest philosophical and scientific minds. Yet it is told with deep intimacy in the context of his family and the often hard to imagine times in which he lived and worked and made his enormous contributions amid formidable odds and often hostile forces. He was at the mercy of the Catholic Church, with its enormous political power, and Galileo also suffered many physical aliments which took a painful toll.

Much of Galileo's life and the detailed history of his time give the reader an inside look at sixteenth century Italy. Born Galileo Galilei on February 15, 1564 in Pisa, he died on January 8, 1642 in Arcetri, as a world-renowned scientist, who had nonetheless faced and barely survived his condemnation by the Roman Inquisition.

The depth and unique tenor of the book comes from Sobel's sharing the text of several of the 124 letters that have survived from the once-voluminous collection ofcorrespondence between Galileo and his eldest, illegitimate daughter. Suor Maria Celeste was his first child and they shared a mutually strong and uplifting bond. As Sobel states, "She alone of Galileo's three children mirrored his own brilliance, industry, and sensibility, and by virtue of these qualities became his confidant." Confined to life within a convent, S. Maria Celeste's life had its own harsh challenges and yet her steadfast devotion to her father was inspiring.

Among many discoveries and discourses, Galileo developed a rudimentary thermometer; improved design of the first telescope, discovered the moons of Jupiter, designed a geometric and military compass, discovered lunar libration, and dictated the concept and design for a pendulum clock to his son after losing his eyesight.

Galileo lived during the time of Shakespeare and Cervantes, and the Bubonic plague. Contemporary admirers thought of his genius as the scientific counterpart to Michelangelo's artistic genius, and one of Galileo's last mentees and assistants, "...promulgated the belief that Michelangelo's spirit had leaped like an inspiration from his aged, failing body to the infant Galileo in the brief span of hours separating the former's death from the latter's birth."

The time in which Galileo lived and made his myriad discoveries was both frightening and fascinating in many ways. A man of deep faith and a giant, pioneering intellect, Galileo possessed and nurtured an incomparable imagination. His son Vincenzio, in describing his father's eloquence and expressiveness, his jovial aspect and love of poetry wrote, "His most detested vice was the lie, maybe because with the help of the mathematical science he knew the beauty of the truth too well."

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