William R. Shea. Galileo Interviewed

By Giostra, Alessandro | Seventeenth-Century News, Spring-Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

William R. Shea. Galileo Interviewed


Giostra, Alessandro, Seventeenth-Century News


William R. Shea. Galileo Interviewed, Zurich, Zurich Press, 2013. vi + 66 pp. Review by ALESSANDRO GIOSTRA, STANLEY JAKI SOCIETY.

"No one extended the vision of humankind so much as he did. No one ever put more stock in perception than Galileo" (4). The importance of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) in the history of science led the author to publish this brief essay, which includes a foreword by Dava Sobel, a well-known expositor of scientific matters. William Shea, Galileo professor of History of Science at the University of Padua, is author or editor of many books concerning Galileo and the Scientific Revolution. The outcome of his work is a very pleasant reading, which finds the way to present the father of modern science from an original perspective. It consists, indeed, in an imaginary interview made to Galileo by the English writer John Milton (1608-1674) in 1638. During that period, Galileo was spending his last years in Arcetri and he had already published his Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences, namely his greatest work. His unfortunate personal vicissitudes are the basic point of this book, which also deals with the seventeenth-century Italian context, the relevance of Galileo's scientific achievements, his difficult relationship with the Catholic Church, and his own familiar burden. Therefore, in addition to the illustration of the main contents of Galileo's scientific research, this book includes many details of his personality, which are often disregarded by historians of science.

At the beginning of this publication we find A Short Account of Galileo's Life (7-20), where the basic moments of his biography are highlighted. In that initial section the author not only lays stress on the essential steps of Galileo's career as a scientist. Other specific situations, indeed, are focused, such as the job of his father, a gifted man with little business sense, and his encounter with mathematics, when he started listening to the lessons delivered by Ostilio Ricci (1540-1603). A conclusion can already be derived from this early section of the book. Galilei was not simply an enthusiastic researcher, but a character who was fully integrated into the seventeenth-century social context. Throughout his life, he asked for the support of influential people and some of his decisions were influenced by the economic problems of his family. That was the reason why in 1610 he decided to abandon the University of Padua and go back to Florence.

The treatment of the Evils of Censorship (21-24) represents the beginning of this interview, in which Galileo shows his situation during the years he was spending in Arcetri and the difficulties due to his condemnation in 1633. Galileo never married, although he had three children. A special devotion was given to the eldest daughter, Suor Maria Celeste (1600-1634), a nun in the convent of San Matteo who died at the age of 33. The mother of his sons was Marina Gamba (1570-1612), a woman he met in Venice, whom he could not get along with him when he got his appointment as Mathematician and Philosopher to the court of Tuscany. In the seventeenth-century Italy, professors were not well paid, so Galileo managed to meet his expenses by giving lessons to young noblemen. …

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