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Customer reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
Format: Hardcover|Change

on 15 March 2017
This is a fine book, but this is not for anyone without solid mathematics background or has a deep understanding of old physics....I will complete the book (currently 150+ pages in wooo) but IT....IS....A....CHORE, previously read Stephen Hawkins A Brief History of time and although that was brain cell creating work I enjoyed it and most certainly learned a hell of a lot..also digested a Newton book with relative ease..this one I am sure is a wonderful book but really feel the author has not aimed this at people like me which is why I really am struggling, learning bits here and there but looking forward to just getting it out of the way. Maybe it is just Galileo and his side of things that are not as engaging as the other fathers of science I do not know, but if anyone can point me to a Galileo book that is less equation flooded then that would be great!
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on 8 November 2013
I needed to know about the man and now I do. Not an easy read and very scholarly throughout; Heilbron clearly knows the man and his times as if he lived in renaissance Italy. It is worth mentioning that it is very witty and downright funny in parts.
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on 5 January 2013
If your interest in Galileo is in his science rather than his character and life then this is the book for you. Exhaustive explanations of the scientific work that he achieved. I would've preferred more detail on his life and character as that would've served my current needs better.

One for the scholar rather than the dilettante.
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on 16 February 2016
Very interesting book about a very interesting person.
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on 24 January 2011
In 1610 Galileo published his little masterpiece "Sidereus nuncius". The 400th anniversary of this book has resulted in a large amount of books on Galileo, of which 2 biographies were selected as the best and reviewed in a Dutch newspaper by Dirk van Delft, Director of Museum Boerhaave at Leiden. These books are the one by Wootton, Alpha oriented and this book by Heilbron, Beta oriented and considered slightly better. Therefore I selected this book and was not at all disappointed with the choice. Heilbron describes Galileo as a "Critic", not as mathematician or philosopher and places him rightly within the context of that period. Much space is devoted to his struggle with the Roman Church and the Jesuits on Copernicanism, but his live and findings are well told and explained in an understandable manner. The last chapter tells the story of the heretical status of Copernicanism and Galileo over the last 400 years and ends with the prediction that Galileo will be made saint by the Roman Church within the next 400 years. The book is well written and intelligible for a large audience, therefore a must for all those interested in the History of Science or in the Scientific Revolution, as Galileo is a central figure in the history of Modern Science. In this respect it is of interest to compare the views of Floris Cohen (author of How Modern Science came into the World, see part II on Galileo) and those of Heilbron. Cohen describes Galileo foremost as a "Realist", while Heibron sees him as a "Critic". Personally I feel more for the unique combination of both aspects which brought forward the birth of Modern Science in Europe.
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on 21 August 2013
This is a work of scholarship at the highest level, written in a most engaging manner. The back matter runs to 150 pages, the Notes alone taking 60 pages.

First sentence of the Preface: "It will be useful and perhaps reassuring to state that this is not the biography of a mathematician"

First sentence Chapter One: "On the facade of a house near the central train station in Florence there is an immense inscription in stone setting out Galileo's feats" Galileo was born on the day and almost the hour that Michelangelo died.

A random sentence, from page 156: "On 30 January 1610 Galileo informed Vinta that he was in Venice printing his account of the marvels God had vouchsafed unto him, of which the greatest were 'four new planets .. that move around a very large star, like Venus and Mercury, and perhaps the other known planets, do around the sun' "

Final sentence: "Who can doubt that within another 400 years the church will recognize Galileo's divine gifts, atone for his sufferings, ignore his arrogance, and make him a saint?"

This book is a masterpiece, one of the greatest scientific biographies ever written
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on 13 October 2011
As is the case with many prominent historical figures, the popular stories of Galileo's life are mainly mythologised versions of the real events. Thankfully, in the case of Galileo and those he associated and interacted with, the historical records in existence appear to be plentiful so serious historians such as Heilbron are able to research the main subject in detail while drawing on many sources to put it all in context. The result in this case is excellent. Helibron is a "distiguished historian of science" and clearly an academic... but the structure of the book and the writing style is very accessible - and with a good dose of wit throughout.
A couple of things about this book which, for me, enhances the experience compared with many other scientific histories/biographies:- Firstly, there are (brief) discussions of the physical questions that Galileo investigated, with the geometrical explanations in the manner that Galileo presented himself. Secondly, there is a glossary of the people featured in the text (with the the exception of "such household names as Einstein and God"). This is very useful for keeping up with the names of the many different characters (and whether they were they pro- or anti-Galileo, Florentine, Roman, Venetian, Jesuit etc.)
This is one of several very good books about Galileo I have read but, so far, I would put this one top of the list.
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on 28 July 2014
I found this book irritating in a number of ways. It's weighty, certainly, and fully indexed, but there are what I would call lapses in the scholarly tone. In the final sentence Heilbron declares his confidence that Galileo will be made a saint. Given that much of the book necessarily dwells on the intransigence of the Holy Office in the face of evidence before the dawn of our pluralistic age, what the Roman Catholic church chooses to say or do about Galileo ought to be a matter of supreme indifference. Not having researched the author before, I now suspect him to be some kind of Catholic apologist, a fact which might have prevented me choosing the book. I would have liked more narrative thrust, more detail of his life, and for the mathematics to have been presented in a modern style, rather than compressed into the text, which makes it harder to follow.
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on 7 December 2015
An expert and erudite account of the great man's life that fascinatingly sets his work in the context of his early literary interests.
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