Galileo at Work: His Scientific Biography

Galileo at Work: His Scientific Biography by Stillman Drake

This biography of Galileo being his "scientific biography" focuses on the scientific achievements of the great philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and inventor Galileo Galilei. As such, it should be of special interest to those who are interested in the methods, means, and time lines for the various accomplishments Galileo made. I think most people would probably prefer a more general biography on Galileo that doesn't go into all of the mathematical proofs and (sometimes) complicated theories behind some of his discoveries. Some of the background knowledge (for instance, Aristotle, Euclid, etc.) necessary to fully understand this book may make it difficult for some. (For a biography more suited to the majority of the public, Galileo: Pioneer Scientist has been recommended to me. I highly recommend Blind Watchers of the Sky which contains much biographical information on Galileo and is written in such a way that all will enjoy. Galileo's Daughter isn't bad either.)

Drake does help make the characters more accessible by including a 35 page biography (in a separate appendix) of the people mentioned in the course of the book. The fact that there are over 150 different people involved who need to be developed in an appendix though shows how this biography can be perplexing.

What I did enjoy was the chronological (almost diary like) fashion in which the events in his life are reveled. This style made each subsequent chapter/year of his life (each chapter for the most part represents a year) something one eagerly awaits to see the new discoveries or controversies it will hold. I especially found the portions dealing with the invention of the telescope and subsequent discoveries in the universe to be exciting. The narrative (by using actual letters, notes, etc.) allows one to feel that they are almost there experiencing the new observations right along side Galileo. The first portion of the book is far more difficult to get through than the middle and later portions which contain the more exciting aspects of Galileo's life.

It is amazing to find out how many of the things in science, which we take as a given today, were first thought of, discovered, or proven by Galileo. Before reading this book, I didn't know that many of the things he is credited with were not known or existing before the 17th century. The book caused me to reflect on what it would have been like to have lived just a few hundred years ago when the general knowledge and technology were at such low levels compared with today.

Reading the letters to and from Galileo make the book worth the price. I especially enjoyed the last portion of one to Galileo in which the author of the letter thanked him for "enlightening cloudy minds". That phrase brought a smile to my face. :-)

Other links of possible interest:

Astronomy Picture of the Day - Carl Sagan
(very cool) Solar System Simulator
Mysteries of Deep Space