Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Galileo's Daughter

Galileo's Daugher by Dava Sobel is, truth be told, not a book I would have picked up on my own. I recently joined a book club (well, a more traditional book club), and Galileo's Daughter was this month's pick. I took the book along on a long car ride with me, hoping I would be able to fly through it, but I found that I kept getting stalled. The night before the book club meeting, I forced myself through the second half of the book, often skimming sections.

And when I showed up to book club, I found out that I was one of the few who had made it through the whole thing. I guess we'll be staying away from historical non-fiction for a while...

Galileo's Daughter is a very different book than it sounds like it should be. The book is based around the letters sent to Galileo by one of his daughters, Maria Celeste, a nun at a Florentine convent. It is pointed out that Maria Celeste chose her name based on her father's work, and that Galileo often noted that she was one of the few people intelligent enough to help with his work. Sobel also bases the book around the very touching fact that a female body, presumably Maria Celeste, is interred anonymously alongside Galileo. What an interesting premise!

It is in the telling, however, that things fall short. The story follows the life of Galileo, and Maria Celeste is hardly mentioned for the first 100 pages or so. There are large sections of the book where she doesn't appear, and often when her letters are quoted, they seem to contradict the idea of the strong and smart woman that Sobel is trying to present.

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it wasn't named Galileo's Daughter. I realize that her letters are the hook and are what makes this book stand apart from other biographies of the scientist, but I found Maria Celeste to be such a minor character for a book that is named for her!

Sobel does an excellent job describing the times that Galileo lived in, and it is clear that she did a huge amount of research. We had a lively discussion around the machinations of the Vatican and the plague (some members even said they wanted more on the plague!). I can't say that's where we expected our discussion going, but it worked.

Have you read Galileo's Daughter? How did you feel about Maria Celeste's role in the book?

2/5 stars

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