Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith,


  • Paperback
  • 420 pages
  • Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love
  • Dava Sobel
  • English
  • 08 June 2019
  • 9780140280555

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Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and LoveEinstein said of Galileo that he was the father of modern physics of modern science altogether We think of him as the father of astronomy But how much do we really know about his life The answer, surprisingly, is quite a lot This book, entitled Galileo s Daughter is a dual biography, both of Galileo and of his eldest daughter, a cloistered nun of the Poor Clares It is also in part a fascinating chronicle of a 17th Century clash between Science and Catholic doctrine arguably the most historically significant and intense battle between religious belief and scientific knowledge Sobel s account is compiled in the main from the 120 letters translated from the Italian written by Suor Maria Celeste, which she weaves into her narrative Sadly none of Galileo s letters still survive, although it is clear that they were in contact daily, and that Maria was his most trusted confidante.Galileo had 3 illegitimate children to care for Maria formerly Virginia was his eldest daughter, and was placed in the convent at the age of 13 The life there was almost unbelievably gruelling to modern sensibilities, but the letters convey how privileged and honoured she felt to be serving in this capacity The next daughter also placed in the convent was a depressive, and Maria attempted in her life to combine her duties as a nun with caring for both of them She also constantly tried to make peace between her father and her brother There are numerous details of a simple dish she would have cooked and sent along in a basket, or a garment she would have painstakingly sewn, despite her life of extreme poverty and chronic ill health The convent was in bad repair, and the nuns did not have any money Galileo frequently helped out financially, but the nuns still had to suffer insufficient food, heating or anything approaching sanitation Maria made light of her troubles, and Galileo was dependent on her loyalty, support and strength, saying that she had an exquisite mind Although his part of the conversation is missing, it can be inferred, and they were clearly devoted to one another.Galileo was born in 1564, and pursued his dream of studying mathematics and philosophy, despite his parents wishes that he become a doctor He taught at the universities of Pisa and Padua, but this position seemed to confer little respect, because of the subjects he taught However his reputation grew with his startlingly original investigations and discoveries Eventually he secured the patronage of the Medici family Among other things he managed to augment the power of the telescopic lens, thus enabling him to study the moon and stars, and discovered the first four of Jupiter s moons There were further controversial scientific discoveries when he discovered sunspots He challenged Aristotelian physics, and this angered his colleagues.But the main tragedy of his life stems from the time when Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems He had thought for a long time that Copernicus was correct in postulating that the Earth revolves around the sun, and with Galileo s mathematical skills and the scientific instruments he had invented, he was able to establish proof Maria s letters show the wavering stages of approval and disapproval of Galileo s conclusions by the Catholic Church At first his theories were welcomed, then seen as a challenge to the Catholic faith the greatest threat since Martin Luther Eventually the reigning Pope Urban VIII a former friend and supporter deemed that Galileo had to undergo a Trial by the Inquisition in 1633 By now Galileo was in very poor health He was charged that his work was heresy that the motions of the heavens were for the Holy Fathers of the Church to rule on, not him Galileo insisted throughout his gruelling trial possibly involving torture that he was a good Catholic, that his faith was true Eventually he was released under a form of house arrest, but by now he was impoverished and never really recovered from the experience The descriptions of Galileo s ordeal is set against a backdrop of bubonic plague throughout Europe, and the 30 years war Throughout Maria would care for him, offering constant support and prayers, cleaning and mending his clothes, preparing titbits, tonics and medicines to cheer him She transcribed all his notes and never doubted his conclusions or faith She died at 34 of dysentry, only months after he had sold his beloved house in Tuscany to move closer to the convent when his sentence had been commuted to house imprisonment.I was surprised that I enjoyed this book as much as I did The two main characters are vividly brought to life through the description of events and the details, which are sometimes quite homely, running through the correspondence Galileo s inventions are fascinating to read about they are described chronologically as they occur Both Galileo s brilliant mind and his conscience shine through this work His struggles to reconcile his scientific findings with his Catholic beliefs are particularly well drawn and poignant, although the descriptions of his trial make for harrowing reading Throughout there is the devotion of his daughter, who read and commented on his work, sometimes adding thoughts of her own She was his closest ally The subheading of this book is A Drama of Science, Faith and Love It is a perfect description of the book, which itself is a fascinating read. 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.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. What a spectacular book My advice to you is to violently discard the grossly inferior book you are currently wasting your time with for this one instead Toss it aside like the trash it is This is a far better substitute Do yourself some good instead The mythology of Galileo, as truly the first modern scientist, is, of course, both revered and legendary His condemnation by the Church, his cannon balls from Pisa Tower and his ingenious improvements on the telescope well known stories, to be sure are re told here with fresh insight and clarity Importantly, though, is that I felt that one can not help but be struck by the contemporary relevance in these stories The truths that science reveals and the unwillingness that a particular ideology or political group exhibits towards accepting those truths are just as damaging today as they were 400 years ago Consider Galileo s cannon balls the thinking at the time was that the speed of an object in free fall was proportional to its weight Galileo reasoned that it was intuitively wrong to suggest that, from a height of 100 feet, a 100 pound ball would hit the ground, while a 1 pound ball, dropped at the same time, would have only traveled one foot When he tried the experiment, the discrepancy between the two weights was merely a few inches As I read of how some of Galileo s contemporaries refused to accept these discoveries, I couldn t help but draw parallels to the animosity displayed by some toward climate change Just as some are willing to disregard the overwhelming support of whole hypothesis because of a few findings to the contrary, so too were Galileo critics willing to disregard his whole hypothesis because of those two inches His response was that they ignored the ninety foot discrepancy the old dogma suggested, to focus instead on his two inches Yet today so many are comfortable ignoring the facts of climate change, focusing instead on those two inches of debate And just as Galileo s two inch discrepancy was due to air resistance, so too will science address all the complex facets inherent in the vigorous and healthy debate of climate change If it is evolution, stem cell therapies, projected water shortages or the impending energy crisis, so many today are willing to disregard science when it interferes with their comfort We have not only forgotten Galileo, we have reduced him to a myth, a story only Someone who played with a telescope instead of someone who changed the world.But, in addition to all this, perhaps even above all of this, the book is a beautiful story of the love between a father and his daughter Through the surviving correspondence of Galileo s daughter, a bright yet reclusive nun, we see the esteemed scientist in a whole new way As a person, a father, rather than an obscure legend Moving and simple and powerful All told, this was beautifully done. So, given the title you d think this would be about Galileo s daughter, Sister Maria Celeste, who he called a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me Perhaps you might have thought that through her eyes this account is partly based upon and includes several of her letters you might gain insight into the mind of the man Einstein called the father of modern physics indeed of modern science altogether Given she s described of exquisite mind perhaps you thought she might have contributed to his experiments or thinking If you re expecting any of that, you re going to be disappointed Really, this is a quick reading biography of Galileo, and there are several chapters that deal with his life before his daughter enters into the story And given she was a cloistered nun from her teenage years, hers was not a life of wide scope or interest aside from her being the daughter of a famous father Her letters, though they show a loving daughter who had no doubts about her father s faith, don t reveal a remarkable intelligence though that would be hard given the letters in the book are filled with little than such mundane details as grocery and laundry lists and asking Galileo to fix a broken clock What seemed to have animated the book is Sobel s desire to argue there there is no reason to see science and faith as opposed, and to present Galileo as a devout and obedient son of the Catholic Church, particularly as demonstrated through his loving relationship with a supportive, devout daughter dedicated to the religious life The Catholic Church both revered shouldn t be slurred with condemning Galileo according to Sobel Technically, however, the anti Copernican Edict of 1616 was issued by the Congregation of the Index, not by the Church Similarly, in 1633, Galileo was tried and sentenced by the Holy Office of the Inquisition, not by the Church Moreover, Sobel related, the Catholic pontiffs who condoned both rulings didn t invoke papal infallibility Alrighty then, that must have consoled Galileo who was forced to renounce the Copernican theory, found his books banned, was put under house arrest for the rest of his life after dealing with the Inquisition and the threat of being put under torture or even burned at the stake as the Astronomer Bruno had been in 1600 by the Inquisition just decades before The sad thing to me is as Sobel presented it Galileo had done everything he could to follow Church teaching and rulings He submitted his book on Copernican theory to the Church s censor told them to change whatever they wanted to, got a license to print it and the Church s imprimatur But the Pope was convinced that Galileo was mocking him personally in the book, had him prosecuted, and the book appeared in the next Index of Proscribed Books where it would stay for 200 years But we shouldn t blame the Catholic Church Nope, it was all just a tragic mutual misunderstanding That all reads to me not so much as apologia as satire, yet Sobel does convince me that Galileo truly didn t want a breach with the Church and was a man of faith and science But for me that just makes poignant, and disgraceful, the bullying of an elderly old man by the machinery of the Church.If the book had a strength though, it was how lucidly it explained the science and Galileo s discoveries just why he can right be called a father of modern science And after reading some very dense histories lately, it was something of a relief to read something easier that you could cut through like a heated knife through butter But I didn t think I got than a rather superficial gloss on Galileo s life and times. I don t normally read non fiction, but for the last few months, I ve found myself in a fiction funk I can t finish any fiction I wonder if it s because I ve hit a point where all prose, themes, motifs, etc., seem the same and are, therefore, uninteresting to me For someone who has relied exclusively upon fiction to add zest to her literary life, this turn of events is really distressing.However, my non fiction choice turned out to be quite fun Galileo s Daughter by Dava Sobel was surprising, enlightening and extremely well written Usually, I find that non fiction though granted my last non fiction was Hirohito and the Modern Making of Japan moves too slowly for me I wonder if it s because I ve trained my mind to pick up the pieces of a narrative rather than the foundations of fact and history But Sobel s history of Galileo s unpublicized relationship with his daughter is a narrative and thus moves along like a stream in spring than its waters in winter.True to medival perceptions of women, Sobel relegates Suor Maria Celeste, Galileo s daughter, into the background of the narrative The first half of the book is really Galileo s story and how he became a famous guy As the narrative progresses, Suor Maria Celeste quietly makes her presence known to us and Galileo s friends History has saved her letters to Galileo, and Sobel, while letting Galileo move the narrative, let s Suor Maria use her own voice to say her own thoughts.What I loved about this book was how Sobel made the period come to life Suor Maria s letters of her convent life, her daily housekeeping transactions and solicitations to and on behalf of her father and relatives during this backwater time period seem so normal I also didn t realize that the Black Death and Galileo existed around the same time, or that at that time in Italy, philosophers were paid and were respected than scientists To the people of then, philosophers dealt in the tangible while mathematicians dealt in the intangible Apparently, Galileo was one of the first scientists to write the world in terms of numbers The story also succinctly lays out Galileo s trial and even provides tidbits of the actual literary work that brought about the whole mess with the church.I loved how even back then, works of literature for it was Galileo s scientific treatise on the position of the sun in literary and fictional form that brought all the trouble could cause such a scandal I love how Suor Maria s language brings her personality and intelligence to life I love how words gave her access outside of the cloistered walls of her convent and how words connected her with her father s deepest and most famous thoughts.Fiction funk or not, the freedom of expression and the fight for free thought and expression in Sobel s book are excellent fun I highly recommend this read. After 150 pages I decided if this book didn t end by smashing the patriarchy, I didn t want to read any And since it would end in 1642, I gave up Say what you will about the times, it s impossible to buy the idea that a well off, well educated, intelligent and self respecting public figure can t know he s participating in screwing over half of humanity Back in the days of Galileo, the author tells us, it was atypical for male academics to marry And so it was with Galileo and his contemporaries, who didn t marry but nevertheless enjoyed living in conjugal union with someone from the grateful lower classes, and begetting bastard children with them, despite being devout Catholics and, in Galileo s case, personal friends with the freaking Pope Now if one of your children is a boy, you might, like Galileo, go to the trouble of getting him legitimatized through your political and clerical hypocritical relationships, even though he is a sullen and not terribly sharp child If the other children are girls, bright and dutiful as they may be, put those inconvenient lesser beings in a convent, which operates like an adult orphanage, a workhouse made up of cast off daughters who live in poverty, as they would in any poorhouse, where they can labor for the church without further ado and through no choice of their own What is it but a form of white slavery There aren t too many books that push my feminist button so bad, but I found it all reprehensible And to top it off the daughter in question was a fawning and overly loving person with apparently a big forgiving heart that made me want to puke The other daughter spent her days depressed and in the convent infirmary for want of a sharp object Quite rightly, in my book There should be another Galileo s Daughter devoted to the one who was right in the head If you are really have to know everything about Galileo, you d probably like this book, which was not uninteresting As for me, enough was enough and thank God it s over. As the daughter of a physicist, I couldn t resist this book It is a biography of both Galileo and his older daughter, who was a nun in a local monastery Her letters to Galileo are the foundation of the book I enjoyed reading the history of Galileo s trial for heresy and also the day to day events that mostly comprise his daughter s letters A fascinating look into the life of Galileo and 17th century Italy. DNF around 30% The title of this book is misleading it s really a book about Galileo and only secondarily about his daughter, who was clearly the Human Interest Angle to illuminate the life of a Great Man Despite his devout Catholicism, Galileo had three illegitimate children with his mistress housekeeper While Galileo had his son legitimized, both daughters were consigned as young girls to a convent, where they lived in abject poverty and struggled with poor health He did send occasional gifts to the convent along with his mending and papers for his daughter Maria to transcribe Galileo s correspondence to Maria has been lost, so we can t learn how he regarded her However, her letters to him survived and are interspersed with chapters about Galileo s life, scientific discoveries, and the various factions skirmishing for power in the church Most of the letters involve Maria lavishly praising her father, abasing herself for her own ignorance, thanking him for any small tokens, worrying about his health, and offering occasional thoughts on his projects While her letters were never self pitying, I became increasingly annoyed with Galileo, who was too busy staring into the sun and counting spots to properly care for his daughters The book provides a well written overview of Galileo s life and discoveries, so if that s your reason for reading, you may very well enjoy it Personally, I was hoping to read about the life of a 17th century woman involved in science, so this was a disappointment. Galileo, Galileo, Galileo Figaro MAGNIFICO O O O SCIENCE AND RELIGION My biggest question, after reading this book, is what did Galileo believe Science has canonized him as one of their patron saints and rightfully so The man was a genius But he was also a good Catholic or at least he appeared to be When the church told him to do something, he did it.Yes, the church treated him completely unfairly And when one is arguing against those speaking with the authority of God, it s difficult to complain about ignorant laws or the injustice of being charged ex post facto.But throughout it all, he apparently maintained some sort of cognitive dissonance Perhaps he didn t buy everything the church was selling, but he certainly didn t cast it all off either.I was surprised to see how many of these men were devoted followers of God Not just Galileo, but Copernicus, et al Because it seems to me Scientists today make Galileo out to be the enemy of the church, and I don t believe he was.Don t take this the wrong way I m no enemy of Science I m all for Science But I don t think it s fair to the memory of Galileo to set him up as a propaganda piece Scientists, especially, should know that the world is much complicated than that.And, while we re talking about Science, it was brought up that Galileo s most enduring discovery wasn t his star gazing It was his use of experimentation Testing, and testing, and retesting Taking on the word of Aristotle by proving something Sure, his discoveries are important but he changed the way we approach problems and that impacts all branches of Science whereas discovering some moons mostly effects astronomy.As for Religion, I found it odd that Sobel didn t talk about Luther He gets mentioned a couple times, whereas The Thirty Years War gets brought up often Part of the reason the church and when I say the church, I m talking about the Catholic church here, not the Protestants they had their own problems at the moment was so hard on Galileo was because its authority had been challenged in The Thirty Years War And yes, that s in the time frame, but certainly they hadn t forgotten about The 95 Theses That was the catalyst.Either way, the church was fighting an uphill battle with Galileo I imagine one could argue that God was on his side Science at least was.This brings up one of Galileo s main points Nature cannot contradict the Bible If we see something in nature that contradicts scripture, either we aren t looking at it correctly, or our interpretation of scripture is incorrect He says, Holy Scripture cannot err and the decrees therein contained are absolutely true and and inviolable I should only have added that, though Scripture cannot err, its expounders and interpreters are liable to err in many ways This is THE paradox of a faith that teaches the infallibility of Scripture.At the time, these claims were edgy, no doubt But even so, I d contend Galileo was still a good decent Catholic When the church told him to censor his book, he did He blacked out the offending passages Although, Sobel adds that he did so, with very light strokes This brings me to some last thoughts dealing with censorship.I heard that Stalin censored the same way He d outright ban books, or he d have everyone black out offending passages.And, I know I m going out on a limb here I know I m getting away from Galileo but this is what really, REALLY worries me about Kindles and e Books, and i Pads, etc That if someone comes along and wants to censor something, with books they have to go one at a time With e books, a person can just click and it s gone. Galileo had a daughter So what That question may be raised, which is understandable Besides, all famous people do procreate, right What makes Galileo s Daughter so significant anyway Well, if you read this book, you surely will change your mind.Dava Sobel again amazed me with her skill in combining history, science and human relations into one book Not many authors could do such thing, I daresay She successfully wove this story of a brave, intelligent, resourceful young woman, who had a genius as her father and how both of them relied on each other to live in difficult times By the way, his daughter was a cloistered nun with the name Maria Celeste But that did not stop her from being her father s rock Her surviving correspondence with Galileo is the main ingredient used by Sobel to describe the dynamics of this unique father daughter relationship The contents varied from her request to Galileo to buy her things such as herbs and linens, the news update on what was going on in her convent, to her consolation for Galileo when he was facing trials in Rome Not only letters apparently, but she also made him clothes and medicines It was as though she lived in the same house with him and took care of him Walls and distance were not barriers Imagine if they both had Blackberrys.This book elaborates much about his works, including the scandalous Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which upholds Copernicus theory that the earth revolves around the sun, which is also a book that required almost two centuries to be dropped from the list of banned books by the Congregation of the Holy Office.Nevertheless, although they did not have rapidshare mirc torrent those days, it did not stop the book from being distributed in Italy and beyond Couriers and diplomatic missions were walking around bringing a copy of Dialogue as they please Galileo was lucky to have so many admirers in Europe, including even a few high ranking cardinals who felt enlightened when reading his works.One thing that bothers me was that Galileo did his best to ensure that Dialogue would not cause any ruckus He used the proper channels, consulted to the relevant officials, gathered sufficient supports from prominent nobles and even sought an audience with the Pope to discuss the book Nevertheless, one could always find a tiny bit of something to be used as incriminating evidence Galileo finally admitted guilty and let himself a frail 69 year old then to be punished Anyway, IMHO his punishment was not too depressing House arrest in the residence of a Sienese cardinal who was one of his strong supporters He could still write, received some guests some with the permission from the Papal Office and had correspondence with fellow scientists and family C mon, twas not too bad, right Seriously now, I understand that it was still hard for him He had lots of enemies who would love to see him rot miserably The pressure he had to face must have been horrendous Having your ultimate work which took decades in the making banned and that you could not publish anything ever again, must be frustrating as hell For future readers, please do not be disheartened from reading the scientific explanation in this book First, there are lots of them anyway haha Secondly, they would give the readers insight on Galileo s personal thinking, which sometimes could be so intriguing and cheeky at the same time.The historical account in this book, describing the flow of events and characters in that illustrious Renaissance era, is truly mesmerizing The interaction between the states and duchies, the politics inside the Papal court and even the bubonic plague present a thrilling read.Back to Suor Maria Celeste, Galileo described her as a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness and most tenderly attached to him I guess he realized that she was his greatest treasure and would be thankful if people could pay her a proper homage when thinking about how great a scientist he was The Father of modern physics would not exist without her, period This is true testament to the adage Behind a great man, there s a great woman , am I correct


About the Author: Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel is an accomplished writer of popular expositions of scientific topics A 1964 graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Ms Sobel attended Antioch College and the City College of New York before receiving her bachelor of arts degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1969 She holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from the University of Bath, in England, and M