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Galileo's Daughter : A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love Unknown Binding – 1999


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Product Details

  • Unknown Binding
  • Publisher: Walker & Company (1999)
  • ASIN: B002FD595Q
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 customer reviews)

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First Sentence
The day after his sister Virginia's funeral, the already world-renowned scientist Galileo Galilei received this, the first of 124 surviving letters from the once-voluminous correspondence he carried on with his elder daughter. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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4.1 out of 5 stars

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Format: Paperback
From the title of this book, I naturally expected it to be a biography of Galileo's daughter, which it is not exactly. I was a bit disappointed to begin with, as the first hundred pages or so are Galileo's early biography. Once his daughter, Virginia (later Suor Marie Celeste) came into the picture, the story became much more interesting.
Virginia was one of Galileo's three illegitimate children by the mistress of his early years, Marina Gamba. She eventually married, with Galileo's blessings, and he never lost interest in his children. Due to their illegitimacy which he felt would eliminate any chance of a decent marriage, Galileo had his two daughters entered into a convent at a very early age. The both became nuns at the convent of San Matteo on turning sixteen, Virginia taking the name Suor Marie Celeste and Livia that of Suor Arcangela. The son, Vincenzio, lived with Galileo in his late teens and eventually (after an unpromising start) became a good son to him.
This book recounts Galileo's personal and private life, using letters from Marie Celeste to give color to what would otherwise be a black and white, straight forward biography. Their shared love is beautiful to see in her letters--his to her having been lost--and the bits and pieces of every day life that she treats the reader to are thoroughly enjoyable.
This is a very detailed and readable history of Galileo, and gave me a much greater understanding of the man, his work and his difficulty with the Church. The conflict he felt between himself and his discoveries comes through very clearly and poignantly in his own words through his other letters. Her faith in him, and in the fact that he was not being heretical, is very apparent.
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Format: Paperback
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This six part, 33 chapter book, by Dava Sobel, has two themes running through it:
Theme #1: Decribes thoroughly the life and times of Galileo Galilei (1564 to 1642).
Theme #2: Describes the life of Galileo's daughter (1600 to 1634) through some of the actual letters she wrote to her father.
This is first and foremost a solid, easy to read biography of Galileo. His life is traced from him first entering a monastery before deciding to lead a life of scientific inquiry and discovery. Actual letters or parts of letters (translated from the original Latin, French, or Italian by various experts) by Galileo and others are included in the main narrative. Throughout, we are told of his numerous inventions and discoveries. Perhaps the most sensational is that his telescopes allowed him to reveal a new reality in the heavens and to reinforce the Copernican argument that the Earth moves around the Sun. For this belief, he was brought before the Holy Inquisition, accused of heresy, and forced eventually to spend his last years under house arrest. All the translated papers pertaining to these inquisition days are included and make for fascinating reading.
My favorite Inquisition story is with respect to the June 1633 renunciation or "confession" document (reproduced in this book) Galileo was to speak out aloud. The main point of this document is that the Earth does not move around the Sun and that the Earth does not move at all. After reading it aloud, it is said that he muttered under his breath "Eppur si muove" (translation: "But it does move.")
One of Galileo's daughters born "Virginia" and later appropriately named "Sister Maria Celeste," had the intelligence and sensibility of her father.
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Format: Paperback
Dava Sorbel (in case you wondered, it's s a woman) has written a thoroughly entertaining and gripping account of Galileo Galilei's life from an unusual angle. This is based on the surviving letters from his eldest child to the astronomer and scientist; from her there are 124 extant letters, but not one of his remains. (However, there are numerous of his other writings and correspondence that the author also draws upon, both directly, and indirectly). Even from the letters alone, it quickly becomes apparent that the reader needs to suspend ideas of parenthood and morality as we would know them. This is seventeenth century Italy, and completely different rules apply.
Suor (or Sister) Maria Celeste took orders in the convent of St Clare at the age of 13, and the tone of her letters is of sheer reverence of her father, and there is a joy in her performing menial task for him, her brother and others in the family. The vow of poverty that Virginia (her name was changed upon entering the convent) took was real, and sometimes there is more than a hint of begging in her letters to Galileo. She also at times was given the responsibility of sending begging letters to possible patrons on behalf of the convent.
Intricate details of everyday life are given throughout; the account of the plague in central Italy in 1630 is particularly good. The continual return to such matters follows the ebb and flow of the letters. Often, letters were sent with some items that had been prepared, and there are requests to send a basket back, or some similar items. Details of convent life are an important backdrop to the writings of Galileo, and Suor Maria Celeste understood both (she helped make fair copy of some of her father's writings prior to publication).
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