Books About and By Galileo Galilei


From Genius to Heretic and Back Again.

galileo and telescope
Galileo offering his telescope to three young women seated on a throne. Painting by unknown artist. Library of Congress.

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 is often referred to as one of the "fathers" of modern astronomy. Galileo had a turbulent and interesting life, and clashed often with the church (which didn't always approve of his work). 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, but in musical circles). The younger Galileo was educated at home and then by monks at Vallombrosa. As a young man, he 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.

in the early 1600s, Galileo constructed his own telescope based on a design he saw by optics expert Hans Lippershey. Using it to observe the sky, he began to write extensively about it 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, particularly students of astronomy history and those interested in the Renaissance during which he lived. In addition, Galileo's life and accomplishments continually attract writers interested in exploring those topics further for general audiences. The following list comprises some of his own work, plus expert insights into his life by more modern writers.

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 provides great insight into his thoughts and ideas. He spent much of his adult life observing the heavens and making notes of what he saw. Those notes are encapsulated in his writings.

Galileo, by Bertolt Brecht. An unusual entry on this list. It's actually a play, originally written in German, about the life of Galileo. Brecht was a German playwright who lived and worked in Munich, Bavaria.

Galileo's Daughter, by Dava Sobel. This is a fascinating look at Galileo's life as seen in letters to and from his daughter. Although Galileo never married, he had a short relationship with a woman named Marina Gamba. She actually bore him three children and lived in Venice.

Galileo Galilei: Inventor, Astronomer, and Rebel, by Michael White. This is a more recent biography 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, and is a useful reference book on the man and his work.

The Day the Universe Changed, by James Burke, who looks at Galileon's life 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 secretive Linxean society, a group of scholarly individuals. This book describes the group and especially their most famous member and his contributions to modern science and natural history.

Starry Messenger.  Galileo's own words, illustrated by wonderful images. This is a must for any library. (translated by Peter Sis). Its original name is Sidereus Nuncius, and was published in 1610. It decribes his work on telescopes, and his subsequent observations of the Moon, Jupiter, and other celestial objects.

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.