Galileos Daughter

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Dana Sobel’s book titled Galileos Daughter: A Drama of Science, Faith and Love makes accessible to the reader key facts about the life of Galileo. The primary source material for the book is the compendium of letters written by Sister Maria Celeste, the eldest of Galileos daughters. The reciprocal letters sent by Galileo to Celeste were lost or destroyed and hence the author faced the challenge of reconstructing a coherent dialogue on the basis of one person’s responses. But this challenge is overcome due largely to the brilliant articulation of ideas, views and facts by Sister Celeste. As Sobels alludes to in the book, Celeste was the most intimate of daughters and the one who inherited her fathers’ intellect and perceptiveness. Although the 120 odd letters written by Sister Celeste to her illustrious father is the primary source material, the book is far more than a collection of these personal exchanges. That is, the letters serve only as a backdrop to understanding the social, political, theological and scientific institutions of the time and helps place Galileos personal and professional struggles in context. The book is structured in such a way that excerpts from these letters are interspersed by authors commentary and analysis of them. Sometimes, Sobel takes up a commonly understood/misunderstood fact or feeling and refines it so as to bring a nuanced understanding of the subject matter.
The book also deserves special appreciation for its unbiased appraisal of the Catholic Churchs antagonistic role in Galileos life. In the last century, several books have dealt with the personal and scientific life of Galileo. and they mostly tend to present the Catholic Church as a rigid, opportunistic and authoritarian body that tried to rule by force. For example, Mario Biagioli’s 1993 book titled Galileo, Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism and James Brodrick’s biography titled Galileo: The Man, His Work, His Misfortunes portray the Catholic Church in the negative light.