Galileo: Watcher of the Skies


By G.R. Batho, published 11th February 2011

Galileo: Watcher of the Skies, David Wootton (Yale University Press, 2010, London and New Haven) xii, 328pp., hardback £25, ISBN 978 0 300 125 368

This is a ground-breaking work by David Wootton, Anniversary Professor of History at York.  It provides convincing evidence that Galileo (1564-1642) was a Copernican earlier than has been thought, that he rejected religion, that his private life left a great deal to be desired, and that the recantation at his trial came from a plea bargain.  Wootton claims mistakenly that Galileo was the first to grasp the potential of the telescope and curiously seems unaware of the publications of the Thomas Harriot Seminar and other works on Thomas Harriot, the polymath who was a protegé of the ninth ('Wizard') Earl of Northumberland (1564-1632) such as John Shirley's biography (Clarendon Press, 1989 and John North's study of Harriot and the Telescope is Shirley's Renaissance Scientist, Oxford, 1974.  This is not to detract from Wootton's achievement in producing an innovative study of one of the great figures in the history of science.  He draws on Galileo's letters and rejects the established view that Galileo was a good Catholic.  The book makes fascinating reading and indeed exciting reading.

28 illustrations are interesting and clear but disappointingly small; they are drawn from sources in Italy, North America and England.  There are comprehensive end-notes, bibliography and index

The biography is eminently readable and available at a modest price.