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Biography / Memoir

By: John Heilbron

528 pages, 16 colour plates, 60 b/w line drawings

Oxford University Press

Paperback | Jul 2012 | #196973 | ISBN-13: 9780199655984
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £12.99 $17/€15 approx
Hardback | Oct 2010 | #188368 | ISBN-13: 9780199583522
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.99 $26/€23 approx

About this book

Four hundred years ago, in 1610, Galileo published the Siderius nuncius, or Starry Messenger, a 'hurried little masterpiece' in John Heilbron's words. Presenting to the world his remarkable observations using the recently invented telescope - of the craters of the moon, and the satellites of Jupiter, observations that forced changes to perceptions of the perfection of the heavens and the centrality of the Earth - the appearance of the little book is regarded as one of the greatest moments in the history of science. It was also a point of change in the life of Galileo himself, propelling him from professor to prophet. But this is not the biography of a mathematician. Certainly he spent the first half of his career as a professor of mathematics and has been called 'the divine mathematician'. Yet he was no more (or less) a mathematician than he was a musician, artist, writer, philosopher, or gadgeteer.

This fresh lively new biography of the 'father of science', planned to coincide with the 400th anniversary of publication of the Starry Messenger, paints a rounded picture of Galileo, and places him firmly within the rich texture of late Renaissance Florence, Pisa, and Padua, amid debates on the merits of Ariosto and Tasso, and the geometry of Dante's Inferno - debates in which the young Galileo played an active role. Galileo's character and career followed complex paths, moving from the creative but cautious humanist professor to a 'knight errant, quixotic and fearless', with increasing enemies, and leading ultimately and inevitably to a clash with a pope who was a former friend.

Heilbron's polymathic expertise brings out the complex contours of Galileo's science in a relatively accessible form [...] The most thorough and reliable introduction to Galileo now available, and also the best written
- Nick Wilding, London Review of Books

"Heilbron's book, to the best of my knowledge, explains more of Galileo's science than any other single book."
- American Scientist

"By far the richest account yet produced in English."
- Science Magazine

"Lively book."
- Mail on Sunday

"Mr Heilbron's ... has much richer scientific detail and will no doubt become the standard, comprehensive biography."
- International Herald Tribune

"Professor Heilbron provides a rounded portrait of Galileo."
- London Review of Books

"Heilbron's emphasis on Galileo's polymathy is a more accessible and undoubtedly valuable aspect of the book."
- Andrew Robinson, History Today

"As well as witticisms, Heilbron delights in scholarly details, and this book bears ample testimony to his assiduous research. [...] Witty...scholarly...innovative...Heilbron's Galileo is no ordinary eulogy."
- Patricia Fara, BBC History Magazine

"An awesome command of the vast Galileo literature... [it] will no doubt become the standard, comprehensive biography."
- Owen Gingerich, New York Times Book Review

"A masterpiece...It far surpasses all previous biographies of Galileo. Impeccable scholarship."
- Nick Jardine, professor of the History and Philosophy of Sciences, Cambridge University


1: A Florentine Education
2: A Tuscan Archimedes
3: Life in the Serenissima
4: Galilean Science
5: Calculated Risks
6: Miscalculated Risks
7: Vainglory
8: End Games


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