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Galileo Reprint Edition

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199655984
ISBN-10: 0199655987
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* “Have faith, Galileo, and go forth.” So Kepler urged on his gifted Italian contemporary. But in this insightful biography, Heilbron shows readers that as Galileo heeded Kepler’s urging, he went forth with faith not only in an ingeniously devised telescope but also in poetically inspired words. Readers see the often-forgotten literary side of the great astronomer, the side aflame with a passion for Dante and Ariosto just as ardent as his better-known enthusiasm for Euclid and Archimedes. Heilbron indeed reveals how Galileo’s sometimes-combative advocacy of great literary art prepared him for the rhetorical task of winning converts to Copernican cosmology. For in defending the creative geometry of Dante’s hell against hostile critics, Galileo honed his gift for well-crafted polemics, so priming himself for the task of championing a revolutionary scientific paradigm. For only by developing an imagination as capacious as Dante’s was Galileo able to wrap his mind around a previously undreamed-of universe, governed by radically new heliocentric principles. Of course, many seventeenth-century clerics lacked Galileo’s intellectual daring, and Heilbron teases out the various subplots swirling around the famous confrontation between Galileo and his ecclesiastical antagonists. A complete portrait illuminating how a bold pioneer forged surprising links between science and the humanities. --Bryce Christensen --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Will no doubt become the standard, comprehensive biography."
--New York Times Book Review

"A masterpiece...It far surpasses all previous biographies of Galileo. Impeccable scholarship."
--Nick Jardine, Professor of the History and Philosophy of Sciences, Cambridge University

"Heilbron's biography is by far the richest account yet produced in English."
--Science Magazine

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (September 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199655987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199655984
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.6 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,461,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Let me sum it up in the beginning of this review for you. This book has 366 pages of narrative in 8 chapters. With footnotes, you are looking at 508 pages. The narrative is thorough, from the great scientist's birth in 1564 to his death in 1642. It is thoroughly researched and there is no question that John Heilbron did his homework objectively. He applied a scholar's eye to an enormous body of work that was created by Galileo.

It is my opinion that if John Heilbron's Galileo suffers from one problem, it is the author's passion for scholarship versus making the subject of his book come alive. In essence, I found I suffered from a certain amount of boredom, and even found some of the reading tedious. This does not detract from the importance of this work, or the fact that nobody else has tackled Galileo in quite a few years.

For most of us growing up, Galileo Galilei was along with Da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, one of the four most significant scientists to the general public in the last ten centuries. We know Galileo as a mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and physicist. Perhaps more significantly, he was the man who invented the telescope, and thus along with Christopher Columbus is unique among Italians. Columbus discovered a new world here on earth, and Galileo discoverd new worlds in the heavens.

His importance cannot be overestimated. Look at just a few of the subjects he studied and expanded upon:

* If you want to understand the motion of uniformly accelerated objects, you must look at his work. It is even studied in school today.

* He is probably the dividing line between the old ways of looking at science and what today would be termed modern science.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you want a comprehensive discussion of Galileo's scientific work, and a thorough discussion of its place in Italian culture of the time, this book is THE book. As a scholarly achievement, it is awe inspiring. The discussion, and occasional fictionalized representations of 17th scientific thinking are wonderful and detailed. I fault the book for style as a biography, not as a work of scholarship. The author takes a tone of arch, ironic detachment towards his subject that is novel and entertaining at first, but which grows immensely tedious after one or two hundred pages. Finally, it becomes, in spite of the fascination of the subject, simply boring.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Fisher on February 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Thank you John for a truly delightful and deeply informative book about Galileo, his science, personality and struggles with the Church. John and I crossed virtual paths around 1965 when I met Thomas Kuhn at Berkeley on his way to Princeton. John must have been his graduate student then. Kuhn invited me to Princeton where from being a mathematician I practiced history and sociology of science for a while. I ended up teaching at Brandeis for 30 years beginning with trying to illuminate students about the Copernican Revolution and convey some idea of how science works. I have traveled a long way since those days. So coming across John's book was like a breath of fresh air showing how beautifully history of science can be written. First I find his ironic way of jousting with history most entertaining. Little back-handed comments about Galileo's self serving personality left me chuckling. Only someone with a mastery of history can get away with such literary elegance and John certainly is a master. An example of this art are the closing lines of the book referring to the Church's overdoing its resurrection of Galileo parallel to its undoing of him four hundred years before: "According to Galileo's mechanics, the slightest force can move the greatest weight given sufficient time.....Who can doubt that within another 400 years, the church will recognize Galileo's divine gifts, ignore his arrogance, and make him a saint?" And the imaginative dialogue, in the spirit of Galileo, which John creates because of lack of evidence, to explicate what John feels must have been Galileo's basic reasoning about motion.

It was Galileo's arrogance that got him into trouble.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By JRE on March 13, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read primarily historical biography. I enjoy seeing historical/political context to a subject and how that subject related to that environment. I liked this book, but found so much of the scientific detailed explanations excessive for my interests as a general reader. I thoroughly enjoyed reading of the conclusions made by clergy and others who hung onto tradition. I liked understanding Galileo's personality. But I really wanted to see more of the geo-politics of that period, the transitions into Renaissance, etc. I am glad I read this book. It was enlightening. But it was a chore.Galileo
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Haverstick on August 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm going to weigh in with a short one. First Heilbron has a very engaging writing style, with about one dry, droll irony per page. Second, the book is about half math. The math is about at algebra or geometry level, so even if you're not a math person, you can get the point of most of it with a little work. Yes, toward the end I was skipping most of it. Still it gives one the satisfaction of feeling you've gotten a bit of a handle on Galeleo's real intellectual life. The plethora of Italian names will probably be as confusing to many as it was to me, but Heilbron supplies a who's who at the back. There's definitly not a lot of colorful description of sunny Tuscany or rich palace interiors. It's truly what we'd call an intellectual biography, not beach reading. But for an educated scientifically oriented reader or even old philosophy major like me. I'd really recommend it.

(From a philosophy of science perspective, I was taken with Heilbron's stessing that it was the implied atomic theory in Galileo's thinking rather than the heliocentric theory that was the danger to orthodoxy. Rightfully so, as Berkeley emphasized a century later!)
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