Author of Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter and The Planets
Dava Sobel is the author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter—which spent five weeks as the #1 New York Times non-fiction bestseller—and The Planets. In her thirty years as a science journalist she has written for many magazines, including Audubon, Discover, Life and The New Yorker, and co-authored five books, including Is Anyone Out There? with astronomer Frank Drake. Her stories combine real life drama and historical scientific achievement into a unique—and fascinating—literary fusion.
Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love
Inspired by a longheld fascination with Galileo, and by the surviving letters of Galileo's daughter (Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun), Dava Sobel presents a talk unlike any otherâ€”a mixture of science, history, and revealing correspondences. Sobel's celebrated book, Galileo's Daughter, dramatically recolored the personality and accomplishments of Galileo, whose seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion. Moving between Galileo's grand public life and his daughter's sequestered world, Sobel skillfully paints a fresh and deeply human picture of this mythic figure. In the process, she illuminates the pivotal era when humanity's perception of its place in the cosmos was about to be overturned. She shows us Galileo's steady and immense influence on the way we think about science, religion, and the point at which, inevitably, they meet.
Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
How did one man in the eighteenth century change the way we envision the vastness and the boundaries of our physical world? In the early days of sailing, mariners had no accurate means of determining their position at sea. They often lost track of their location as soon as they lost sight of land. Innumerable tragedies befell navies and traders-- until John Harrison, a clockmaker, solved the perplexing problem of longitude. (The grid lines that mark every map and globe today can be traced to his discoveries.) What led one self-educated man to solve a problem that Newton and Galileo could not? And how can studying the scientific leaps of the past help us envision our future? In this elegant talk, Dava Sobel weaves a powerful historical narrative to show us how Harrison's invention of the chronometer changed the way we look at the world and how it continues to shape our concept of distance and place.
In this talk, Dava Sobel celebrates the deep connection humans have always had with the planets in our solar system. Using astrology, mythology, science fiction, music, and poetry, Sobel reminds us that despite living in an age of science, we are more culturally and spiritually linked to the cosmos than we realize. Celebrating both Earth and her nearest neighbors, she speaks eloquently on the nature of our unique moment in human history-- a moment when the familiar family of nine planets acknowledges the nearly two hundred newly discovered planets orbiting stars beyond the Sun. Beautiful, warm and meticulously crafted, this talk makes generous room for philosophy, logic, science and poetry. It will delight lovers of astronomy and lay people alike.
A More Perfect Heaven
By 1514, the reclusive cleric Nicolaus Copernicus had written and hand-copied an initial outline of his heliocentric theory-in which he defied common sense and received wisdom to place the sun, not the earth, at the center of our universe, and set the earth spinning among the other planets. Over the next two decades, Copernicus expanded his theory through hundreds of observations, while compiling in secret a book-length manuscript that tantalized mathematicians and scientists throughout Europe. For fear of ridicule, he refused to publish.
In 1539, a young German mathematician, Georg Joachim Rheticus, drawn by rumors of a revolution to rival the religious upheaval of Martin Luther's Reformation, traveled to Poland to seek out Copernicus. Two years later, the Protestant youth took leave of his aging Catholic mentor and arranged to have Copernicus's manuscript published, in 1543, as De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres)-the book that forever changed humankind's place in the universe.
In her elegant, compelling style, Dava Sobel chronicles, as nobody has, the conflicting personalities and extraordinary discoveries that shaped the Copernican Revolution. At the heart of the book is her play And the Sun Stood Still, imagining Rheticus's struggle to convince Copernicus to let his manuscript see the light of day. As she achieved with her bestsellers Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, Sobel expands the bounds of narration, giving us an unforgettable portrait of scientific achievement, and of the ever-present tensions between science and faith.
Inspired by a long fascination with Galileo, and by the remarkable surviving letters of his daughter Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun, Dava Sobel has crafted a biography that dramatically recolors the personality and accomplishments of a mythic figure whose early-seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion-the man Albert Einstein called "the father of modern physics-indeed of modern science altogether." It is also a stunning portrait of Galileo's daughter, a person hitherto lost to history, described by her father as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me."
Moving between Galileo's grand public life and Maria Celeste's sequestered world, Sobel illuminates the Florence of the Medicis and the papal court in Rome during the pivotal era when humanity's perception of its place in the cosmos was about to be overturned. During that same time, while the bubonic plague wreaked its terrible devastation and the Thirty Years' War tipped fortunes across Europe, Galileo sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope. Filled with human drama and scientific adventure, Galileo's Daughter is an unforgettable story.
Praise for Galileo's Daughter:
"[Sobel] shows herself a virtuoso at encapsulating the history and the politics of science. Her descriptions of Galileo's ideas…are pithy, vivid, and intelligible."—Wall Street Journal
Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that "the longitude problem" was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day—and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives and the increasing fortunes of nations hung on a resolution. One man, John Harrison, in complete opposition to the scientific community, dared to imagine a mechanical solution--a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and of Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world.