Galileo and the Science Deniers

Mario Livio. Simon & Schuster, $28 (276p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9473-3

Astrophysicist Livio (Brilliant Blunders) explores the life of Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei, and the grim fate he met at the hands of the Catholic Church, in this entertaining biography. Born in Pisa in 1564, Galileo took to mathematics early on. Livio describes how Galileo’s educated, if poor, parents hoped he would become a doctor. Instead Galileo became an underpaid math professor at the University of Pisa and began the experiments that would make him famous. 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. With telescopes of his own making, Galileo revealed a universe of imperfections, which did not conform to accepted Aristotelian logic and made the Church’s Jesuit scholars uncomfortable. Accused of holding theories “false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture,” Galileo was condemned for heresy and forced to disavow his findings, spending his last years under house arrest. 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. (May)