1999 - Galileo's Daughter
I worried this day would come. The day when I had to write a review for a book that didn't work for me. I touched on this situation briefly in my post on A Thousand Acres (which I loved, but one of the read-alike recommendations was a book that didn't work for me). Here's my philosophy: a book cannot and should not work for every reader. A reader adds his or her own attitudes, history, and preferences to the experience of a book. It's impossible for a writer to encompass all possible attitudes, histories, and preferences and still tell a story worth reading. In this case, my preferences precluded me from fully enjoying this work.
Galileo's Daughter is structured around the letters sent from Galileo's daughter Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun, to the scientist himself. The return letters were destroyed when Maria Celeste died. Dava Sobel filled in the gaps with impeccable historical research written in a narrative style. This led to what I found to be an imbalanced, though fresh, perspective on Galileo's rocky relationship with the Catholic church.
I love science. I love well-written historical fiction. I do not love the epistolary structure. But many readers do, and many, many readers loved Galileo's Daughter. Here are some other fresh perspectives on science and history that you may enjoy:
- The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
- Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
- The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
The first is another work by Sobel, this time focusing on the women who worked at the Harvard Observatory in the late 19th century making wonderful if unrecognized discoveries. In a similar vein, Hidden Figures is the story of the underappreciated black women who computed the calculations for the initial NASA missions. Finally, The Professor and the Madman has been on my list for a long time. It explores the fascinating story of Dr. W.C. Minor, who contributed more than 10,000 definitions for the original Oxford English Dictionary, was found guilty of murder, and was possibly insane.
Keep turning the page,