Friday, July 27, 2007

BOOK: Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

I have to confess: I am a science geek. I love science, heck, I teach physics, and everyone hates physics in school.

Short story:
On our Mediterranean cruise last summer, we had a day stop in Florence. We (my mom, sister and I) were on a guided tour for the afternoon, and had some free time before we would meet for the 1.5 hour bus ride back to the ship. What to do? The Accademia is the art museum with the statue of David, among other outstanding works of art, and how could we pass this up? However, there is often a several hour wait to get into the museum. By the way, Michelangelo wanted the statue of David in the square to represent the little people, the citizens of Florence, against the tyranny of the aristocrats. It is still there, so we got to see it, but only a copy. Did you know that the statue is David, as in David and Goliath? I didn't.

If we tried to go to the art museum, there would not be enough time to really see anything. Then, we saw there was a science museum, Istituto e Museo di Storia Della Scienza, just around the corner. Hmm. My Engineer sister and me, the physics teacher think, that might be fun! We tentatively ask our tour guide, "Is there much of a line up to get into the science museum? Will we have to wait very long?" She dismissively snots, "Oh, no. Nobody goes to there. No lineup."

We had a great time! We saw Galileo's middle finger! and his original telescope! I was so excited. We would have enjoyed it more had it been air-conditioned, but seeing all these scientific artifacts was so amazing. Even our nonscientific mother found it fascinating, for about an hour, which is all we spent there. I think they are missing out on a souvenir market, because I would have loved to buy some posters, and mementos, especially since the monitor lady wouldn't let me take pictures. I found that out after I got this picture of the ramp he used to see the effect of gravity. If I had known I would only get one picture, I would have taken it of his telescope. That he first saw the moons of Jupiter from!!

So. Since I love science, the nonfiction challenge gave me the perfect opportunity to read Galileo's Daughter, by Dava Sobel. I read her book Longitude, earlier in the year and was anxious to read this next book. Now, I don't want to mislead people. Because I really enjoyed the book, but it wasn't a page turner. There were parts that were dry, but overall, due to my science-love, I enjoyed the book. I used it as my 'day reading' book. Not a going to bed and being enthralled story. But an interesting, sitting up, have to think a bit, type of book.

The book has several aspects to it. It is foremost a biography of Galileo Galilei, but told through letters found, that were written by his eldest daughter, Virginia. She was unmarriageable, since she was born of an affair, so Galileo put her in a convent, with her sister. One other son of this union became legitimate, but he seemed quite a disappointment. Virginia, or Suer Marie Celeste, was the child that kept the most contact and was certainly the most capable. It was from the point of view of their relationship that was the most interesting part of the book, beside showing what a little of everyday life in early 1600s Tuscany was like.

The relationship between the Church and science is also explored, as well as Galileo's famous trial and punishment. The politics and religion that were involved in those days, wow. And for those who aren't aware, Galileo was tried for supposedly promoting Nicolai Copernicus' heliocentric view of the planets. Now he certainly agreed with Copernicus, but the book Galileo wrote skirted his promotion of it, by arguing against Copernicus by showing the problems with all the evidence that was available to show that the Earth actually revolved around the sun. Since the evidence supports Copernicus, it was certainly a weak argument, but Galileo felt he never supported, in writing.

Galileo was a tough, fascinating scientist, mathematician to the Medici family, professer at Padua, and devoted father to Suer Marie Celeste and her monestary. I think I'd like to have my own copy of this book, for reference. And, I want to go back to Italy!


  1. What a GREAT review! I really enjoyed reading the story of your "cruise excursion" and learning more about you as well! Physics was the only science I didn't like ... chemistry was my favorite but I ended up studying Computer Science at university.

  2. laura: I was actually a chemistry major, and didn't even like physics until I started teaching it. Now, I wouldn't go back to chem.

  3. Sounds like a really interesting book for the most part. We have a good science musuem in Portland that we really like to go to. Not on the same level as the one you were at at all I'm sure!

  4. I loved reading about your visit to Florence! So, what did you think of Longitude? I've got that one on my stacks.

  5. Galileo's middle finger is in a museum? I cannot get that out of my mind. I love it!

  6. paula: the stuff in this museum was old! I really liked seeing the globes and how they changed as more info became available. All the instruments were works of art in themselves, ornately decorated.

    bookfool: I liked Longitude; it has a bit of a mystery to it, because it was a contest, with large sum of money, for whoever solved the longitude problem first. It's not too long either.

    kookie: It's funny because I think we blocked the finger from our brains! I read in the book that his finger was at the museum, and I thought "I think I saw that, but how could I even be wondering if I saw it? Wouldn't that be imprinted on my brain?" so I called my sister and she said the same thing - I can't believe I don't remember, but it sounds very familiar. They took his finger when he was exhumed to be moved to a more revered burial tomb.

  7. Thank you!! I'll try to shove that one up the stacks. Sounds terrific. :)


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