Dava Sobel has had a lifelong fascination with Galileo and her latest book,Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love, brings the famous scientist vividly to life while offering a unique perspective on his trial for heresy and subsequent years under house arrest.
Just as Sobel made John Harrisons search to determine longitude a compelling story for modern readers in Longitude, she makes Galileos scientific struggles and achievements fresh and alive through her own knowledge of the history of science and the insightful letters of his daughter, which Sobel has translated from the original Italian.
When she was thirteen Galileo placed his oldest daughter, Virginia, in the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri, a mile from Galileos home in Florence, where she took the name Maria Celeste and devoted herself to the hard, poverty-stricken life of the Poor Clares. They corresponded regularly and 124 of her letters to Galileo still survive (his letters to her were most likely destroyed).
Maria Celestes letters reveal an intense devotion between father and daughter and chronicle the momentous events of Galileos later career. They also provide keen insight on Galileos theories of the heavens, his trial for heresy, and his abjuration and eventual punishment. Sobel goes beneath the science-versus-religion symbolism to reveal how the social, psychological, and political aspects of Galileos trial all converged in an inevitable showdown.
The turbulent time in which Galileo and Maria Celeste lived is a vivid background for their stories. Sobel skillfully renders the horrors of the bubonic plague as it swept through Italy, the toll of the Thirty Years War, the difficulties of travel and communication between cities in Italy, as well as the flamboyant ways of the Medicis, who were Galileos patrons.
In Galileo's Daughter, Sobel reveals a personal side to Galileo that has never been presented before, while rescuing an extraordinary woman from the depths of history.