Few historical episodes are more fraught with subtleties, ironies and ambiguities. To tell it properly requires an unusual breadth of knowledge and the gifts of a great storyteller. Fortunately, Mario Livio is fully equipped for the task. In Galileo: And the Science Deniers, his mastery not only of the science (which is to be expected of a highly accomplished astrophysicist), but of the cultural and historical context, is impressive. Even more impressive perhaps, given that he is not Catholic, is his relatively sophisticated grasp of some of the theological arguments and issues ... Livio’s occasional straying into the didactic, not to say homiletic, will be distracting or irritating for some readers. But they do not diminish the value of the rest of his book, which tells the story of Galileo in a perceptive, illuminating and balanced way.
The non-chronological zigzagging of the book can be hard to follow, but allows Livio to focus on themes, such as Galileo’s polymathy ... Livio is at his best when he discusses how Galileo’s scientific understanding compares with that of researchers today ... It’s a chillingly relevant theme, yet the parallels he draws between Galileo’s trial and contemporary science wars feel thin, and there’s a frustrating lack of examples to demonstrate the continuity of denialism through the centuries. Nonetheless, Livio has added to the canon an accessible and scientific narrative, in which a profound love for Galileo shines through.
Throughout his engaging discussion of Galileo and the forces arrayed against him, Livio highlights the similarities to current political and religious arguments against such science-based positions as the veracity of evolution and human-induced climate change. One striking element of contrast that the author touches on somewhat obliquely is perhaps the most crucial: The church’s stranglehold on scientific inquiry had a chilling effect on free thought and the exchange of ideas, and pointedly hurt certain individuals—such as Bruno—but nothing the church believed, mandated, or proclaimed had any power to change the stasis of the sun or motion of the Earth.
Livio offers three reasons for writing his new book, but the most compelling reason to read this biography is the relevance of Galileo’s famous political and religious struggles to today’s problems. Livio, an astrophysicist, is able to portray science in a way that laypersons can understand. His writing in Galileo is straightforward and conversational, and he is at home in storytelling mode, especially when he relates some of Galileo’s exuberant disagreements with other scientists and some Jesuit mathematicians and astronomers..
Though much has been written on the famous thinker and observer, Livio enhances his narrative with clear, accessible explanations of Galileo's experiments from mechanics to astronomy. Fascinating details include information about one of Galileo's other interests: casting horoscopes ... An extremely readable biography paired well with analysis of current scientific thinking and controversies. For all fans of popular science.
Books on Galileo are not scarce, but the latest from astrophysicist Livio features the author’s unique insights as well as his concern about the current fashion for giving ideology priority over truth ... The author’s criticism of science denial and a long section marshaling evidence in favor of climate change and evolution will neither enlighten science-minded readers nor persuade those who disagree ... The author truly excels in his explanations of Galileo’s findings as well as his descriptions of the culture of Renaissance Italy. Popular histories extol the scientist’s use of the just invented telescope to galvanize Europe with astronomical discoveries—the moons of Jupiter, phases of Venus, and the mountains on Earth’s moon—but Livio gives equal time to his revelations of the laws of motion, which marked the birth of modern physics. An expert life of a giant of science.
... entertaining ... Livio vividly recounts Galileo’s efforts to support his family and explore astronomer Copernicus’s claims that the Earth went around the sun, instead of the reverse ... In a coda, Livio illuminates the parallels between the deniers of Galileo’s scientific findings and those today who ignore the evidence of climate change. Intriguing and accessible, and packed with clever insights, Livio’s latest gives readers plenty of think about.