Magazine article The Spectator

Patrick Skene Catling

Magazine article The Spectator

Patrick Skene Catling

Article excerpt

Love informs some of the books I most admired/enjoyed this year. In The Horizontal Instrument (Doubleday, 10), Christopher Wilkins stylishly performs the feat of combining horological history with a tender romance doomed by presenile dementia.

After the phenomenal success of Longitude, Dava Sobel has published an equally fascinating scientific drama in Galileo's Daughter (Fourth Estate, L16.99). Sobel enriched her account of the 17th-century astronomer's endurance of the Inquisition by quoting his daughter's supportive letters, which the author translated from the Italian. Immured since the age of 13 in a convent of the Poor Clares, Maria Celeste, as she called herself in honour of Galileo's special interest in the heavens, addresses her `Most Illustrious Lord Father' in a moving series of expressions of filial devotion that helped to maintain the persecuted scientist's morale.

Nicholas Shakespeare's monumental biography of Bruce Chatwin (Harvill,L20) is a very nicely balanced assessment of the writer's incandescent literary career, immense charm and self-love, which he saw reflected in the eyes of countless lovers, male and female. …

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