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Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love Paperback – November 1, 2000

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Everyone knows that Galileo Galilei dropped cannonballs off the leaning tower of Pisa, developed the first reliable telescope, and was convicted by the Inquisition for holding a heretical belief--that the earth revolved around the sun. But did you know he had a daughter? In Galileo's Daughter, Dava Sobel (author of the bestselling Longitude) tells the story of the famous scientist and his illegitimate daughter, Sister Maria Celeste. Sobel bases her book on 124 surviving letters to the scientist from the nun, whom Galileo described as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and tenderly attached to me." Their loving correspondence revealed much about their world: the agonies of the bubonic plague, the hardships of monastic life, even Galileo's occasional forgetfulness ("The little basket, which I sent you recently with several pastries, is not mine, and therefore I wish you to return it to me").

While Galileo tangled with the Church, Maria Celeste--whose adopted name was a tribute to her father's fascination with the heavens--provided moral and emotional support with her frequent letters, approving of his work because she knew the depth of his faith. As Sobel notes, "It is difficult today ... to see the Earth at the center of the Universe. Yet that is where Galileo found it." With her fluid prose and graceful turn of phrase, Sobel breathes life into Galileo, his daughter, and the earth-centered world in which they lived. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Despite its title, this impressive book proves to be less the story of Galileo's elder daughter, the oldest of his three illegitimate children, and more the story of Galileo himself and his trial before the Inquisition for arguing that Earth moves around the Sun. That familiar tale is given a new slant by Sobel's translationAfor the first time into EnglishAof the 124 surviving letters to Galileo by his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, a Clarisse nun who died at age 33; his letters to her are lost, presumably destroyed by Maria Celeste's convent after her death. Her letters may not in themselves justify a book; they are devout, full of pious love for the father she addresses as "Sire," only rarely offering information or insight. But Sobel uses them as the accompaniment to, rather than the core of, her story, sounding the element of faith and piety so often missing in other retellings of Galileo's story. For Sobel shows that, in renouncing his discoveries, Galileo acted not just to save his skin but also out of a genuine need to align himself with his church. With impressive skill and economy, she portrays the social and psychological forces at work in Galileo's trial, particularly the political pressures of the Thirty Years' War, and the passage of the plague through Italy, which cut off travel between Florence, where Galileo lived, and Rome, the seat of the Pope and the Inquisition, delaying Galileo's appearance there and giving his enemies time to conspire. In a particularly memorable way, Sobel vivifies the hard life of the "Poor Clares," who lived in such abject poverty and seclusion that many were driven mad by their confinement. It's a wholly involving tale, a worthy follow-up (after four years) to Sobel's surprise bestseller, Longitude. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140280553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140280555
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (404 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #272,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
In her previous book, Longitude, Dava Sobel showed how technology (the construction of a sea-worthy clock) solved the problem of determining a ship's longitudinal position in the ocean. In Galileo's Daughter, we see how technology, i.e. the invention of the telescope, gave rise to a an intellectual problem -- how to reconcile truths of science with those of faith. Galileo never intended to contradict the church, but hoped to present the Copernican system of the world as merely an alternative hypothesis to the Ptolemaic view that the earth was at the center of the world. Sobel uses his correspondence with his daughter, a nun, to provide the context of his struggles that ultimately led to his conviction by the Inquisition. As a resuslt of his house arrest, Galileo worked during the last years of his life on Two New Sciences, a work perhaps even more important than the Dialogues on the Two Chief World Systems, and one that laid the foundation for Newton's Principia. Beautifully woven into Galileo's story are the events of the 17th century: the Thirty Years' War, the bubonic plague, the role of the Medicis and that of Pope Urban VIII
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Format: Hardcover
Dava Sobel has accomplished what is nearly impossible when dealing with a subject who is as well known, and documented as the life of Galileo. There must be literally hundreds of books on the man, and his works. Dava Sobel not only finds new source information, the letters of Galileo's eldest Daughter Sister Maria Celeste, but also uses them to expand on what is commonly known about Galileo the Scientist, the accused Heretic, and gives us Galileo the Father. It could be argued that the book is as much about Galileo as his Daughter, but that would be misplacing the emphasis of the book. We learn of the extremely harsh life of Cloistered Nuns, the medicines that Galileo's Daughter made and treated him with. This to me was fascinating as opposed to just knowing that Galileo was often sickly. From the detail in the book one could recreate these medicinal treatments if one chose to. This type of detail would not normally interest me, but here it is presented as a Daughter trying to maintain the physical health, as well as constantly buttressing the man's faith as he was accused, tried, sentenced, and watched his life's greatest work banned by his own Church. And to have this torment take place with the consent of a man that Galileo counted as a friend, both prior to his being Pope, and when he became Pope Urban VIII. I feel the Authoress did a brilliant job of handling the religious issue. Rarely can this be attempted without the writer being branded anti-Catholic. She was able to state the facts, without editorial comment, by which she successfully navigated a secular minefield. Some of the facts are so petty and mean-spirited that was it not for the fact they came from Vatican Records, Dava Sobel would find herself the target of the narrow-minded.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Sobel's biography of Galileo does many things. As a result, it doesn't cover any one of its aspects in tremendous depth, but does do a good job of covering each of them. This also helps make the book more enjoyable to read. A straight up, full frontal discussion of the great scientist's theories on motion would have been tough for a reader not well-versed in math and physics. By contrast, when Sobel talks about Galileo's scientific breakthroughs, it's clear what the subject is, even if some details are left out.
It also hits some new territtory in its revealing of Galileo, the person, especially his relationship with his daughter. Her correspondence with him shows a woman of ironclad (almost self-flagellating) faith, devoted love for her father (which he clearly shared) and the two of them as just ordinary folks who worry not only about the movement of earth, but also about the laundry. Galileo is also is shown to have a sense of humor; when fined for not wearing his uniform at university, he circulated a tongue-in-cheek poem asking if clothes were really necessary at all.
The book also does a nice job of illuminating Galileo's true greatest feat - changing our definition of "science". In his time, the "natural philosophers" held that the universe was unchanging, that math was useless as a tool to describe the world, and that "if Aristotle said it, it must be true." These concepts are total anathema to science today, thanks largely to Galileo, who disproved them.
With due respect, I'd also like to correct a few errors in some other reviews. Galileo's book "A Treatise on the Tides", did indeed try to use the tides to prove that the earth was not stationary in space. But he claimed that it was earth's motion which caused tides, not the Moon.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Some authors are very good telling you about history. Others are very good at putting you into history. Both have their place. But an author who can do the latter is special and Dava Sobel is one of the latter.
Her book, Longitude, was her first and is excellent, bringing to light a crucial and little known part of scientific history. The story of Galileo is better known but often misunderstood by even science teachers like myself. However, by framing the Galileo's story around his daughter's letters (Galileo's replies are lost) we get the feeling of being there in the early 17th century and a real taste of Galileo's successes and setbacks.
I suppose that many people might be put off by this style of history-telling. It is often difficult for a 21st century person to understand the interests and cares of people 25 years ago let alone 400 years ago. I think it's fascinating, however, to see the differences: a time when science was new, creating an awe that is lost on modern people, and religion permeated peoples lives, God's world being as present as the physical one.
As a Catholic, I was particularly interested in Galileo's struggles with the Church. I have often felt this period to be in many ways a low point in Church history. Interestingly, it turns out to be what these things often are: a struggle between both high- and low-minded Church officials, where political issues end up winning out over theological and philosophical ones. Galileo's conviction by the Inquisition (on what appears to be a vote of 7-3) was caused by many factors and his continued support by many highly placed Catholics even after his conviction shows the lack of unanimity in opinion.
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