I am going to start this review by telling you that I immensely enjoyed this book. I don't normally read biographies, but I was drawn to this one because I feel some small amount of kindred with all mathematicians. I can't say that I had any specific curiosity about Galileo in particular, but all of the historical scientists and mathematicians grab some measure of my attention.
As I started this book, I noticed immediately a couple of things about the author, Mitch Stokes. First, I noticed the amount of work that must have gone into this book from the immense amount of footnoting. The book ends with the 16 pages of referenced footnotes. When an author goes to that much effort to validate what he is saying, you walk away feeling like you have read an accurate account and not simply one author's opinion.
The second thing I noticed about the author is his, for lack of a better word, personableness. I don't think that is a real word, at least the spell-checker is telling me that it isn't, but that's the best I could do. I tell you this because I felt, while I was reading this, as if I was hearing the story from a close friend of Galileo's, someone who really knew him, and someone who cared about his story.
To be able to write about someone in such a way that you walk away feeling you got all of the historical facts in an accurate manner and at the same time you feel as though you were talking to an acquaintance is a hefty task. Whether or not Mitch Stokes was attempting to accomplish that goal or not, I have no idea, but that is how I walked away from this book. This leads me to my next point, because of this book, I have a new appreciation for Galileo.
As much as Galileo was a scientist and sought to have his mathematics and his science to correlate perfectly with the observable world, he also had great respect for the church. This book included example after example where Galileo demonstrated his submission to the authority of the church. This is one area where the legends have misconstrued the reality of the story. In Galileo's book, titled Dialogue, he begins to draw to a conclusion his arguments for Copernicanism by also stating that there is an argument before which one "must fall silent."
I know that if asked whether God in His infinite power and wisdom could have conferred upon the watery element its observed reciprocating motion using some other means than moving its containing vessels, both of you would reply that He could have, and that He would have known how to do this in many ways which are unthinkable to our minds. From this I forthwith conclude that, this being so, it would be excessive boldness for anyone to limit and restrict the Divine power and wisdom to some particular fancy of his own.In other words, Galileo, after arguing for the motion of the earth (which we now know is true) by saying that the tides were caused by the motion of the earth (which they aren't, they are caused by the gravity of the moon) he states that what he has observed could be explained in an infinite number of other ways because there is an infinitely powerful God.
Galileo also argued for the church (or at least the believers) to be able to give a believable account for what they hold to be true from scripture. He put it this way (by quoting Augustine):
The distressing thing is not so much that an erring man [i.e., the believer] should be laughed at, but that our authors [of scripture] should be thought by outsiders to believe such things, and should be criticized and rejected ignorant, to the great detriment for those whose salvation we care about. For how can they believe our books in regard to the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they catch a Christian committing an error about something they know very well, when they declare false his opinion taken from those books, and when they find these full of fallacies in regard to things they have already been able to observe or to establish by unquestionable argument?This way of thinking presents some challenges and hurdles when considering the consensus science that is around today.
Anyway... Read this book. It is worth the time.