Books About and By Galileo Galilei


From Genius to Heretic and Back Again.

Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei. Public Domain

 Galileo Galilei is well-known for his astronomical discoveries and as one of the first people to use a telescope to look at the sky. He had a turbulent and interesting life and is one of the greats of astronomy. Most people know of his first observations of the gas giant planet Jupiter, and his discovery of the rings of Saturn. But, Galileo also studied the Sun and stars. 

Galileo was the son of a famous musician and music theorist named Vincenzo Galileo (who was himself a rebel in musical circles). The younger Galileo and educated by monks at Vallombrosa, then entered the university of Pisa in 1581 to study medicine. There, he found his interests changing to philosophy and mathematics and he ended his university career in 1585 without a degree. He constructed his own telescope and wrote extensively about the sky and his theories about the objects he saw in it.His work caught the attention of church elders, and in later years he was accused of blasphemy when his observations and theories contradicted official teachings about the Sun and planets.

Galileo wrote several works that are still studied today, and there are several very good books about his life that are well worth reading. Here are some recommendations for your reading pleasure! (You can find most of these at any good library, purchase online or at well-stocked brick-and-mortar bookstores.)

Read Galileo's Work and Works about Him

Galileo's Daughter
Book: Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. Penguin Publishing

Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, by Galileo Galilei. Translated by Stillman Drake. Straight from the horse's mouth, as the saying goes. This book is a translation of some of Galileo's writings and provide great insight into his thoughts and ideas.

Galileo, by Bertolt Brecht. An unusual entry on this list, this was a play, originally written in German, about the life of Galileo. I would love to see this one on stage.

Galileo's Daughter, by Dava Sobel. This is a great book by one of my favorite authors.This is a fascinating look at Galileo's life as seen in letters to and from his daughter. 

Galileo Galilei: Inventor, Astronomer, and Rebel, by Michael White. This is a wonderful and well-written biography on the life of Galileo.

Galileo in Rome, by Mariano Artigas. Everyone is fascinated by Galileo's trial before the Inquisition. This book tells of his various trips to Rome, from his younger days through his famous trial. It was hard to put down.

Galileo's Pendulum, by Roger G. Newton. I found this book to be an intriguing look at a young Galileo and one of the discoveries which led to his place in scientific history.

The Cambridge Companion to Galileo, by Peter K. Machamer. This book is an easy read for just about anyone. Not a single story, but a series of essays that delve into Galileo's life and work, well worth reading.

The Day the Universe Changed, by James Burke. This is book is by another favorite author of mine. His Connections book and PBS series are fantastic. Here, he looks at Galileo and his influence on history.

The Eye of the Lynx : Galileo, His Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural, by David Freedberg. Galileo belonged to the Linxean society, a group of scholarly individuals. This book describes the group and especially their most famous member.

Starry Messenger.  Galileo's own words, illustrated by wonderful images. This is a must for any library. (translated by Peter Sis)

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.