Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel / The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander / On the Origin Of Free Masonry by Thomas Paine

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Dave and I were both impressed with our first Dava Sobel read, Longitude, and Dave chose Galileo's Daughter for his Kindle on the strength of the former. As it turned out, he disliked Galileo's Daughter so much that he didn't finish it whereas I found the book interesting and enjoyed learning more not only about the life of the great scientist, but also of the (by modern standards) terribly restrictive life forced on to both his daughters.

Suor Maria Celeste, the religious name adopted by Galileo's eldest daughter at the age of thirteen when she and her eleven year old sister were shut away in the San Matteo convent, exchanged letters almost continuously with her father throughout her short life. Her letters have survived and Sobel includes several within her book in order to illustrate points in what is essentially a biography of Galileo. Through her writing and evidence left by Galileo himself in surviving letters to third parties, it appears that Suor Maria Celeste was educated and highly intelligent yet condemned to a poverty-stricken secluded existence while her younger brother was repeatedly given opportunities that he squandered. This double-standard was common practice in Italy at the time, but I couldn't help but wonder at the waste!

Sobel's writing is informative while still being entertaining and she manages to always avoid becoming dry in tone. The minutiae of daily life recounted in Suor Maria Celeste's letters is incredible to read and I was amazed at her frequent need to beg alms from her rich father and patrons in order to stave off near starvation for herself and the sisters in her convent. Also incredible was the paranoia of the Vatican and Popes in Rome regarding their fanatical condemnation of any thinking that did not agree with their narrow interpretation of Scripture. I saw modern reflections of this attitude in Under The Udala Trees. Galileo's Daughter is a thought-provoking book which certainly made me glad to be alive now rather than then, even though that was just four hundred years ago.

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Books by Dava Sobel / Biography and memoir / Books from America


The Bitter TradeThe Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander from its self-publisher, Tenderfoot, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This is my third review for Sophie And Suze's NetGalley Challenge.

I was attracted to The Bitter Trade by its time period setting which is an exciting period in English history, and one which I don't yet know too much about. Alexander has created a wily young hero with a great turn of phrase, given him the improbable name of Calumny Spinks, and let him loose on unsuspecting 1680s London. Lots of story threads are entwined and tangled throughout the long novel and I did often find it difficult to keep track of the subterfuges. Perhaps a case of too many competing ideas? The descriptions of places, clothes, attitudes and behaviours are wonderfully vivid, however, and Calumny is a fun character to spend time with. Other characters aren't so convincingly portrayed, but I did like Abigail, Ty and Garric, and also Calumny's father Peter.

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Books by Piers Alexander / Historical fiction / Books from England


On the Origin of Free-Masonry: Posthumous Work (Classic Reprint)On the Origin of Free-Masonry by Thomas Paine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I downloaded On The Origin Of Free-Masonry by Thomas Paine when it was the ForgottenBooks free daily download as much to read something by its illustrious author as to gain any insights into the famously secretive organisation. This turned out to be fortunate as Paine doesn't actually give much away! In the thirty-page pamphlet, originally published posthumously in 1810, he briefly discusses Masonry's orientation of Lodges, the sun worship and the Druidic roots of the religious practices, and explains the probable cause of the Masonic famously fanatical secrecy. This isn't a great book to actually learn much, but as a historical curiosity I found it interesting.

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Books by Thomas Paine / History / Books from England

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