“Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love” by Dava Sobel (Penguin, 2000)

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The small picture of the nun on the front cover of Galileo’s Daughter may well be Suor (Sister) Maria Celeste, Galileo’s daughter, and then again it might not.  This stands as a summation of what is within the pages Dava Sobel has strung together.

Suor Maria Celeste begins every single one of her letters to her father, the great scientist Galileo, with “Most Illustrious” or “Most Beloved” or “Most Illustrious and Beloved Lord-Father.”  But then she is a nun.  Once you get over the astonishing endearments, you are taken into a world that has not existed for centuries.  The setting is Italy and the man is the genius known as Galileo Galilei, from his fledgling days as a scholar, to a broken man who died in a great pain.

While Galileo’s daughter does play a significant role in this piece of historical nonfiction, the man of the novel is Galileo, and this is his new biography, written with extreme research and in complete detail, where any questions you may have had on this man’s life are answered.

Sobel does an excellent job of presenting hitherto held beliefs or ideas on a specific aspect of Galileo’s life (such as the number of trials he had to attend), and then providing exact evidence from the reliable source with the truth (two, one for a hearing, and one for a sentencing).  The result is a book about Galileo that is unlikely to be equaled.

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Originally published on April 29th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.