Cover image for Galileo's daughter : a historical memoir of science, faith, and love
Galileo's daughter : a historical memoir of science, faith, and love
Sobel, Dava.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Walker & Co., 1999.
Physical Description:
420 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1530 Lexile.
Format :


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QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating
QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QB36.G2 S65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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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 Galilei (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 about to be 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 Dava Sobel's previous book Longitude, Galileo's Daughter is an unforgettable story.

Author Notes

Dava Sobel was born in the Bronx, New York on June 15, 1947. She received a B.A. from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1969. She is a former New York Times science reporter and has contributed articles to Audubon, Discover, Life, Harvard Magazine, and The New Yorker.

She has written several science related books including Letters to Father, The Planets, and A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time won the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love won the 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for science and technology and a 2000 Christopher Award. She has co-authored six books with astronomer Frank Drake including Is Anyone Out There? She also co-authored with William J. H. Andrewes The Illustrated Longitude.

Because her work provides awareness of science and technology to the general public, she has received the Individual Public Service Award from the National Science Board in 2001, the Bradford Washburn Award in 2001,the Klumpke-Roberts Award in 2008, and the Eduard Rhein Foundation in Germany in 2014.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

As often is the case with religious landmarks in history--in this instance, Galileo's prostration before the Inquisition--a deeper searching reveals more textures than simple science-versus-religion symbolism. But it takes a talented storyteller to bring them forth, and Sobel meets our high expectations with this work, the legacy of her account of the inventor of the seagoing chronometer in Longitude (1995). Sobel is aided by a unique resource: more than 100 letters to Galileo from his eldest daughter that have never before been published in translation. They appear here largely verbatim and have been skillfully integrated into the contextual events of early 1600s Italy--no mean narrative feat, considering that this daughter, who took the veil and the name Maria Celeste, never in her short adult life ventured beyond her order's walls. The letters' somewhat trepidant salutation, "Most Illustrious and Beloved Lord Father," belies what was apparently a profoundly fond relationship on a filial level (a conclusion supported by the surprise Sobel springs at the end), but it was respectful on an intellectual one: there are allusions to Maria Celeste copying over Galileo's Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the work that attracted the ire of the inquisitors. Their lives are set in motion against a background that includes family finances, Florentine and papal politics, the bubonic plague, and the Copernican revolution, which Galileo was championing as discreetly as was safe to do. Succinct in describing where, and where not, Galileo was heading in correct scientific direction (he didn't understand tides, for example), Sobel connects the tempests of his world to the cares and anxieties of Maria Celeste's. "A woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me," eulogized the father when she suddenly died amidst his persecutions, an aptly allusive summing up of the subject of Sobel's singularly affecting story. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 translationÄfor the first time into EnglishÄof the 124 surviving letters to Galileo by his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, a Clarisse nun who died at age 33; his letters to her are lost, presumably destroyed by Maria Celeste's convent after her death. Her letters may not in themselves justify a book; they are devout, full of pious love for the father she addresses as "Sire," only rarely offering information or insight. But Sobel uses them as the accompaniment to, rather than the core of, her story, sounding the element of faith and piety so often missing in other retellings of Galileo's story. For Sobel shows that, in renouncing his discoveries, Galileo acted not just to save his skin but also out of a genuine need to align himself with his church. With impressive skill and economy, she portrays the social and psychological forces at work in Galileo's trial, particularly the political pressures of the Thirty Years' War, and the passage of the plague through Italy, which cut off travel between Florence, where Galileo lived, and Rome, the seat of the Pope and the Inquisition, delaying Galileo's appearance there and giving his enemies time to conspire. In a particularly memorable way, Sobel vivifies the hard life of the "Poor Clares," who lived in such abject poverty and seclusion that many were driven mad by their confinement. It's a wholly involving tale, a worthy follow-up (after four years) to Sobel's surprise bestseller, Longitude. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Sobel, a former New York Times science writer and author of the surprise best-seller Longitude, has produced another creative and compelling work. In addition to the surviving letters from Galileo's daughter, which Sobel has translated into English for the first time, she has done broad and imaginative research to write a science biography that reveals her technical insight and originality. Galileo's daughters, Virginia (the daughter of the title) and Livia, were admitted to the Convent of San Matteo while they were in their early teens and spent the remainder of their lives in that cloistered setting. Virginia, who took the name Maria Celeste, was very close to her father and demonstrates a keen mind and scientific understanding in her letters to him. As he proceeds with his discoveries that led to his theory that Earth moves around the sunÄan argument that directly countered the teaching and position of the Catholic ChurchÄGalileo's communication with her demonstrates his reconciliation of science and religion. Unfortunately, the Pope and his advisers were not of similar resolution. Sobel has a remarkable ability to explain technical subjects without being simplistic or pedantic. There is a tremendous amount of fascinating detail in this work, and yet it reads as smoothly and compellingly as fiction. Highly recommended. [See interview with Sobel on p. 128.ÄEd.]ÄHilary Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab., Livermore, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

All have heard of Galileo, but not many have heard of Galileo's daughter, Virginia, who, born out of wedlock, was entrusted to a nunnery. Suor Maria Celeste, as she came to be called, was pious and bright, affectionate, and dedicated to her father. Father and daughter corresponded regularly through letters, though they lived not too many miles apart. They wrote to each other on matters of significance as well as trivialities. Her fond letters soon became a source of immense strength for her genius-father, especially in his later years. Only the daughter's missives have survived; the father's have perished beyond a trace. In this fascinating book, written with much grace, intelligence, and erudition, writer Sobel recreates for the reader, through the letters, the science and related conflicts of the time, and the social conditions and the ecclesiastic adamancy surrounding Galileo. The letters reveal that the great scientist was also a deeply sensitive man of faith, who had the intelligence to know that if reason and observation spoke differently about the world, that was a greater revelation from God than any ancient texts holy because of age. The letters also show the deep love and caring that Suor Celeste had for her aging father. The world of scholarship is indebted to Sobel for bringing to light one more human side of Galileo. All levels. V. V. Raman; Rochester Institute of Technology

Table of Contents

Part 1 To Florence
[I] She who was so precious to youp. 3
[II] This grand book the universep. 13
[III] Bright stars speak of your virtuesp. 25
[IV] To have the truth seen and recognijedp. 37
[V] In the very face of the sunp. 49
[VI] Observant executrix of God's commandsp. 59
[VII] The malice of my persecutorsp. 71
[VIII] Conjecture here among shadowsp. 84
Part 2 On Bellosguardo
[IX] How our father is favoredp. 99
[X] To busy my self in your servicep. 110
[XI] What we require above all elsep. 122
[XII] Because of our jealp. 133
[XIII] Through my memory of their eloquencep. 143
[XIV] A small and trifling bodyp. 153
[XV] On the right path, by the grace of Godp. 162
[XVI] The tempest of our many tormentsp. 175
Part 3 In Rome
[XVII] While seeking to immortalije your famep. 187
[XVIII] Since the Lord chastises us with these whipsp. 197
[XIX] The hope of having you always nearp. 206
[XX] That I should be begged to publish such a workp. 216
Part 4 In Care of the Tuscan Embassy, Villa Medici, Rome
[XXI] How anxiously I live, awaiting word from youp. 231
[XXII] In the chanbers of the Holy Office of the Inguisitionp. 242
[XXIII] Jainglorious anbition, pure ignorance, and inadvertencep. 255
[XXIV] Faithvested in the miraculous Madonna of Jmprunetap. 264
[XXV] Judgment passed on your book and your personp. 273
Part 5 At Siena
[XXVI] Not knowing how to refuse him the keysp. 285
[XXVII] Terrible destruction on the feast of San Lorenjop. 295
[XXVIII] Recitation of the penitential psalmsp. 306
[XXIX] The book of life, or, Aprophet accepted in his own landp. 316
Part 6 From Arcetri
[XXX] My soul and its longingp. 331
[XXXI] Until I have this from your lipsp. 340
[XXXII] As I struggle to understandp. 348
[XXXIII] The memory of the sweetnessesp. 357
In Galileo's Timep. 369
Florentine Weights, Measures, Currencyp. 375
Bibliographyp. 376
Notesp. 383
Appreciationp. 394
Art Creditsp. 396
Indexp. 399