The Galileo book mystery

Photo © Jenny Rollo
An anonymous collector somewhere in the world possesses a much-coveted book about Galileo Galilei, the late-Renaissance scientist, known for his experiments on gravity and studies in astronomy.

Scholars would love to get their hands on this book because it's the earliest known biography of the man who was put on trial for writing that the earth rotated around the sun. At the time, religion and politics held firmly that the earth was the centre of the universe.

The book has a mysterious history, as a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine explores. The biography was written in 1664, about twenty years after Galileo's death, then went missing in the Great Fire of London two years later. It resurfaced in 1749 in the library of an English earl but then was lost again until very recently, when it came to light as part of an auction related to a property dispute and a castle eviction. Now it's in the hands of an anonymous private collector. But before it was sold, an American associate professor heard about it and was able to review the contents of the book at the auction house. He was surprised by what he read. It appears it's an annotated version of another work that was destroyed in that fire in London in 1666. And most illuminating, it presents a new and different explanation as to why Galileo found himself in trouble with the Pope and was brought to trial...

You can follow this mystery in the Smithsonian article, Galileo, Reconsidered.

Many thanks to Jenny Rollo for the photograph of Galileo's tomb in Florence.

If you like this type of story, you might want to read "Two mysteries solved!" in this blog.

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