Galileo’s Mistake


Veteran literary journalist Wade Rowland takes one of the modern world’s most influential myths – the epic confrontation of physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642) with the Church of Rome – and turns it on its head. Rowland argues that at the dawning of the Scientific Revolution in the early 1600s, Galileo’s mistake was to insist that science provides truth about nature. The Church fought back against this challenge to its authority by declaring that science provides only models for reality and that the ultimate truth is accessible only through metaphysical or spiritual insight.

Although the 1633 trial centred on Galileo’s telescopic observations of the night sky, Rowland argues persuasively that this was merely the public face put on a much more profound issue: what is truth and how can we know it? Galileo’s ultimate recantation, Rowland argues, must be understood in this light. Couched in the engaging style of travel narrative, this provocative reexamination deconstructs the myth that Galileo was a freethinker waging war against reactionary and anti-intellectual Church.

Using the Socratic method of examining arguments, Galileo’s Mistake moves seamlessly through Galileo’s life and his ideas about the nature of reality. By no means an apologist for the Church, Rowland skillfully and persuasively identifies the source of the ontological crisis that plagues us today: the unquestioned authority of science in determining the nature of reality.


'Galileo's Mistake' is a lofty and ambitious philosophical exploration, and Rowland's considerable gifts as a writer make the book pleasurable and captivating.

Quill & Quire

Rowland's triumph is in examining Galileo's method over his facts and winning an argument that was lost more than 350 years ago. His book provides a fascinating contribution to a debate that is particularly germane today and is likely to be equally important 300 years from now.

The Montreal Gazette

Rowland tells the story well and with style...backed by research and sensitivity to the issues.

Globe and Mail

It is a stunning point and Rowland makes it in wonderfully readable prose, that incorporates elements of the type of Platonic dialogue that Galileo himself employed.

Rowland has a gift for both narrative as well as for dialogue.

Catholic Register

Rowland has written a provocative and entertaining look at a turbulent period of European history.

Hamilton Spectator

Rowland does an impressive job of bringing the 17th century to life.

Publishers Weekly

Wade Rowland has written a book in which the life and accomplishments of Galileo are described in effortless prose and with a light touch, which is a joy to read. He has the ear of a journalist and a novelist's eye.

Catholic Insight

...this book was a wonderful read!...Rowland is to be complimented in the way he convinces the reader that the issues are perennial, not just historical.

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

About the Author

Wade Rowland

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
Wade Rowland photo

Wade Rowland

Wade Rowland is the author of more than a dozen books, including Galileo's Mistake, Spirit of the Web, and Ockham's Razor. He is a former holder of the Maclean Hunter Chair of Ethics in Communications at Ryerson University in Toronto and currently lectures in the social history of communications technologies at Trent University in Peterborough. He lives near Port Hope, Ontario, with his wife, Christine.