Archive: November 22nd, 2001

Galileo's Daughter : A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

Time for a little book review. I’ve just finished reading "Galileo’s Daughter" by Dava Sobel.

I had already read Sobel’s previous book, "Longitude", which I enjoyed immensely. Because of this, my expectations for Galileo’s Daughter were pretty high.

I’m afraid the book didn’t live up to my expectations.

It’s hard to put my finger on quite what was missing. It’s not a bad book by any means. It just didn’t grip me.

First of all, it has a much smaller scope than Longitude. Longitude featured a large cast of historical characters ranging all over the globe in an intellectual quest. Galileo’s Daughter deals primarily with just two people confined to a small area of Italy.

Secondly, I didn’t really gain that much insight from the book. Longitude was a treasure trove of historical oddities and offers a new spin on the recent history of civilisation. Galileo’s Daughter deals mostly with the frustrating struggle between Galileo and the inquisition and we all know how that went.

I’m being unfair, of course. I shouldn’t be comparing books (even if they are by the same author).

Perhaps the problem lies with me. I’m interested in the Renaissance but it just doesn’t grip me in the same way that tales of invention from the Victorian era do.

That’s why I’m now reading a book that promises to be the true successor to Longitude: "The Cogwheel Brain" by Doron Swade.

It’s a biography of Charles Babbage (or rather, a biography of his Difference Engine) and already it has me completely gripped. It looks like being a nice companion piece to "The Victorian Internet", a really great book about the invention of the telegraph.

I’ll give my verdict on The Cogwheel Brain here once I’ve finished reading it.