Galileo Watcher of the Skies David Wootton

Publication date:
30 Sep 2010
Yale University Press
354 pages: 235 x 156mm
24 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A provocative and penetrating new life of Galileo, placing the man, his achievements, and his failures in the broader history of the Scientific Revolution

Galileo (1564–1642) is one of the most important and controversial figures in the history of science. A hero of modern science and key to its birth, he was also a deeply divided man: a scholar committed to the establishment of scientific truth yet forced to concede the importance of faith, and a brilliant analyst of the elegantly mathematical workings of nature yet bungling and insensitive with his own family.

Tackling Galileo as astronomer, engineer, and author, David Wootton places him at the center of Renaissance culture. He traces Galileo through his early rebellious years; the beginnings of his scientific career constructing a “new physics”; his move to Florence seeking money, status, and greater freedom to attack intellectual orthodoxies; his trial for heresy and narrow escape from torture; and his house arrest and physical (though not intellectual) decline. Wootton reveals much that is new—from Galileo’s premature Copernicanism to a previously unrecognized illegitimate daughter—and, controversially, rejects the long-established orthodoxy which holds that Galileo was a good Catholic.

Absolutely central to Galileo’s significance—and to science more broadly—is the telescope, the potential of which Galileo was the first to grasp. Wootton makes clear that it totally revolutionized and galvanized scientific endeavor to discover new and previously unimagined facts. Drawing extensively on Galileo’s voluminous letters, many of which were self-censored and sly, this is an original, arresting, and highly readable biography of a difficult, remarkable Renaissance genius.

David Wootton is Anniversary Professor of History, University of York. He delivered the Raleigh Lecture in History at the British Academy in 2008 and will give the Carlyle Lectures in Oxford in 2013. A regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, his previous books include Paolo Sarpi: Between Renaissance and Enlightenment and Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates. Visit the author's website

"Engaging and accessible."—James Wilsdon, Financial Times

"Wootton writes a fascinating book… As a whole, the book is absolutely first rate, and well worth reading and re-reading."—Revd Jeremy Craddock, Church Times

"Well researched, intellectual biography... Wootton does a good job of untangling who said what to whom and when in Galileo's dealings with the Inquisition."—Manjit Kumar, Sunday Telegraph

"Wootton’s insights are unnervingly convincing…"—Nick Wilding, London Review of Books

"This book is not just a superb biography of Galileo but a good introduction to the centuries-old debate over religious and scientific views of truth."—Contemporary Review

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