A joint biography of Galileo and his daughter, and a good history of early modern Italy and the Scientific Revolution. Galileo had three children, all illegitimate. He was in a loving lifelong relationship, but social conventions of the time said that academics could not marry. As a result, Galileo’s children grew up under an unjust stigma and were denied opportunities they might otherwise have had. Both of his daughters ended up in convents. One of them, the well-named Maria Celeste (think celestial, and remember that Galileo was an astronomer), inherited her father’s intellect. Though she was not allowed to put her gifts to much use, she was about as accomplished as a woman in her time was allowed to be—though almost entirely uncredited, naturally.
She also left behind a long trail of correspondence with her father, from which Sobel quotes extensively. From this, Sobel tells Maria Celeste’s life story, and Galileo’s, goes into the science of his discoveries, and, for good measure, gives a cultural history of the time. Sobel gives a good flavor of what daily life was like in convents, in universities, in the town and in the country, and how repressive medieval religion was for men and women alike. Women got the short end of an already short stick.