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Galileo: A Life Galileo: A Life
By James Reston, Jr. 
2000/01 - Beard Books
189312262X - Paperback - Reprint -  332 pp.
US$19.95
2005/01 - Beard Books
158798251X - Hardcover - 204 pp.
US$34.95

Get it in hardcover.

The dramatic story of an era during which science and religion were one and where one man dared to defy the only power on earth that was able to bring him to his knees.

Publisher Comments

Category: Biographies & Memoirs

A suspenseful narrative and spirited rendition of the life of Galileo Galilei, the Renaissance giant who set out on a collision course with the Roman Catholic Church. James Reston's meticulous research, astute use of excerpts from letters, poems, and church documents enliven his hero on every page.

From Bruno Maddox - Washington Post Book World

It is to James Reston's credit that his masterful new biography of Galileo Galilei manages to capture... the Renaissance as colorfully as it does, without making his subject seem too much like some time-traveling hero from a more sensible age... a brilliant biography.

From Los Angeles Times Book Review

A spirited evocation of Galileo's charisma and capacity... fresh, sinewy, and altogether admirable.
 
From William A. Wallace - America  
A great outpouring of books on Galileo has been seen within the last two decades, many of them written by and addressed to Galileo scholars, though a smaller number were written for the general reader. . . . James Reston's Galileo: A Life is difficult to situate in the Galileo genre. It has some features in common with Pietro Rendondi's Galileo Heretic (1987) and with Mario Guiducci's Galileo Courtier (1993), but it lacks their scholarship and so is perhaps better compared with Berthold Brecht's Galileo. Reston, too, is a dramatist and a writer. . . . His portrayal of Galileo is a character study in five parts. . . . Reston has read widely and bases his exposition partly on texts and partly on legends, using elements of both to achieve the desired effect.

From Booklist
Reston's previous books have spotlighted military or cult leaders, politicians, or sports figures. So Galileo is a departure, but because science and its collision with theology in the early seventeenth century is new territory for Reston, he is able to transform it into fresh terrain for all his readers, even those most familiar with Galileo's tragic tale of genius and persecution. Reston brings this star-gazing, intuitively intelligent, original, articulate, witty, theatrical, self-promoting, cash-poor, and nearly inexhaustible Italian Catholic to life in an involving and, yes, suspenseful narrative. Acquaintance with the facts does nothing to diminish the drama, and Reston's zealous research, judicious use of excerpts from letters, poems, and church documents, vivid descriptions, and frank indignation over the church's appalling treatment of his hero enliven every page. We feel the shock and wonder Galileo felt when he looked through his first perfected telescope and saw the mountains and craters of the Moon, the dance of the moons of Jupiter, and the surprising movements of sunspots--dangerous but undeniable observations that stood in sharp contrast to the Vatican's sanctioned view of the universe. We also empathize with this brilliant man as he pesters those in power for university appointments, money, and permission to publish his world-altering texts. Reston has composed vigorous portraits of Galileo's loyal supporters and vicious enemies while illuminating the political turmoil of his times. Reston also makes clear his dissatisfaction with the Vatican's 1992 "formal recognition of error" in its handling of Galileo's inquisition: it's just too little, too late. Donna Seaman

From Kirkus Reviews , April 1, 1994

This readable biography of the 17th-century scientist and mathematician is long on politics and personality and short on science and math. Reston (Collision at Home plate, 1991) divides Galileo's life in three. Since there is no wealth of information on the developmental years and early career, they are handled quickly. Galileo's rise is given in greater detail, especially his search for patronage, his intense defense of his work in the face of religious and intellectual resistance, and his ridiculing counterattacks on plagiarists and intellectual thieves. Reston assumes we know Galileo's achievements in the sciences and so spends little time on them. Instead, he builds the biography around two aspects of Galileo's character. The first is his political instincts, which on the one hand led to a fawning attitude to secular and ecclesiastical patrons, and on the other to a powerful use of his pen in attacking intellectual opponents without regard to political implications. The second trait Reston focuses on is Galileo's intellectual self-assurance, which kept him from understanding the anti-intellectual resistance to his work. These political implications come back to haunt Galileo, as the third part of the book shows in chronicling the scientist's fall. Reston devotes the major portion of his book to Galileo's trials. He creates a well-rounded portrait, convincing the reader to appreciate Galileo's mood swings, his intellectual arrogance, and his final capitulation as behavior to be expected from the man portrayed. He is as good exploring the politics of Counter- Reformation Italy and the anti-intellectualism of the conservative elements of the Church, and weaker on why and how Galileo's work was potentially heretical. He successfully portrays Galileo's world, with its colorful group of Renaissance Italians. Readily accessible, the book is an interesting character study and political biography of the great scientist. -- Copyright 1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. 

From Ingram
Vividly depicting the brilliant scientist and dramatically portraying the turbulence and richness of the era in which he lived, a chronicle of Galileo's career focuses on his invention of the telescope, which forced a dangerous confrontation with the Inquisition.

From Owen Gingerich,  Harvard University 

James Reston, Jr. paints a vivid yet sensitive portrait of Galileo: his effervescent friendships in the rich intellectual milieu of the Venetian Republic, the brew of excitement and egoistic paranoia that accompanied his astronomical discoveries with the telescope, the annoyances of a derelict brother and the lawsuit over his sister's dowry, the agony of the trip to Rome to face the Inquisition. It is a dramatic story, often told, but never as compellingly as this

From The Washington Post

A brilliant, masterful biography.

From Los Angeles Times

Fresh sinewy, and altogether admirable.

From William A. Wallace - America
A great outpouring of books on Galileo has been seen within the last two decades, many of them written by and addressed to Galileo scholars, though a smaller number were written for the general reader. . . . James Reston's Galileo: A Life is difficult to situate in the Galileo genre. It has some features in common with Pietro Rendondi's Galileo Heretic (1987) and with Mario Guiducci's Galileo Courtier (1993), but it lacks their scholarship and so is perhaps better compared with Berthold Brecht's Galileo. Reston, too, is a dramatist and a writer. . . . His portrayal of Galileo is a character study in five parts. . . . Reston has read widely and bases his exposition partly on texts and partly on legends, using elements of both to achieve the desired effect.

From A reader (Amazon.Com)

Reston does a lot with this. He captures the bad side of the Pope's insistence that Galileo refrain from describing the surface of the moon as anything other than perfectly smooth, shiny, and sinless. Because of course Adam and Eve had not sinned up there. Like Galileo, Reston also catalogues some of the surface imperfections of his subject, and what they suggest about his mindset and his world.

The family portrait of Galileo's two daughters, both shunted off to a convent, is tragic, and Reston penetrates this sub-unit of his topic convincingly, getting into how one daughter became pious, while another become embittered. The idea of using the Church for refuge for your daughters is intersting, since the same Church was leaning on Galileo.

This book is a great tour of the man behind the discoveries, the math equations and the historic controversies. The feel of the Italian city states of the Renaissance also comes out in this book, and it's no coincidence that the family and clan-based capitalism of Galileo's patrons had to precede or lay the groundwork for someone of Galileo's talents to really produce something.

This book is hard to put down. Good to take on a vacation.

From  Paul Perdue (psperdue@aol.com)  from Augusta, Georgia, U.S. (Amazon.Com)

In what could be considered an early case study and fore-runner to the famous Scopes monkey trial in the United States, the story about Galileo's life and unfortunate clash with the Catholic Church is a tale of humanity that unfortunately, never seems to die. James Reston has been able to accurately portray the dangerously volatile environment which often germinates when science and religion collide with each other, and he has done so within the framework of a life that was pure genius. It is not often easy to step back and to objectively juxtapose a beautiful life with the darkness of injustice and religious intolerance. James Reston's book has been able to accomplish just such a feat.

 

James Reston, Jr. is the author of several books. He has written articles for the New Yorker, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Time, Rolling Stone, and many other publications, and the scripts for three Frontline documentaries. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Prelude ix
Part I Pisa
1. The Wrangler 3
2. Lucifer's Arm 17
Part II Padua and Venice
3. The Golden Ox 39
4. Frogs and Mice 58
5. The Stone and the Quarry 83
Part III Florence
6. The Nasty Seed 109
7. Black Fire and Floating Bodies 122
Intermezzo 139
Part IV Florence and Rome
8. O Ye Fools of Galilee! 145
9. The Cardinal's Scold 157
10. Gloom at Bellosguardo 172
11. The Heart of the Scorpion 188
12. Convulsion 211
13. The Trial of Galileo 233
Part V Siena and Arcetri
14. Blind Obedience 265
Apology 283
Biographer's Notes 287
Selected Bibliography 299
Acknowledgments 305
Index 309

 

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