Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist

Guy Consolmagno, Author
Guy Consolmagno, Author McGraw-Hill Companies $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-07-135428-8
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-07-137231-2
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-07-137658-7
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It's the last two words of its subtitle that will arouse interest in this amiable book--and deservedly so. Like other Jesuit scientists before him, most notably Teilhard de Chardin, Consolmagno conveys well a passion for science wed to faith in God: two objects of devotion that, as Consolmagno realizes, many see as mutually exclusive. The triumph of his book is its persuasive argument that doing science can be a religious act--""that studying creation is a way of worshipping the creator."" Regrettably, that triumph is confined to only a minor portion of the text, which overall, despite its other merits, has a ragtag feel, with Consolmagno moving from a look at his monastic-scientist's routine to discussions of his specialty, the study of meteorites; a history of Galileo's problems with the Church; a mini-autobiography; and Consolmagno's experiences hunting meteorites in Antarctica. And, in fact, the final chapter reveals that much of the book consists of reworked versions of the author's past talks and papers. Other than the brilliant defense of science's place in the religious life (and vice versa), no section of the book excels, though all are serviceable. The hard science discussions are elegant but rather technical; the Antarctic narrative, while enjoyable enough, lacks the alert wordsmithery of the practiced storyteller; and some of Consolmagno's statements, such as that all of Western science's achievements result ""from the Incarnation,"" are so bald as to deny anyone but a devout Christian any grip. Even so, the book works, and well, for Consolmagno is a charming writer, witty, self-deprecating and, above all, genuine. There's not a whit of posturing in his words, but, instead, a sincerity and enthusiasm that are consistently congenial and infectious. 60,000 first printing; author tour. (Mar.) FYI: Brother Astronomer launches McGraw-Hill's ambitious new trade science program, which in the year 2000 will publish books by, among others, Ellen J. Prager, Alan Lightman and Joel de Rosnay.
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