“This is a crime story” opens this impressively researched and enjoyable book (4). Readers might be forgiven for assuming that the criminal is Galileo, who was issued a warning by the Church in 1616 and charged with “vehement suspicion of heresy” in 1633. But in this whodunnit (plot-spoiler alert!), the detectives are not inquisitors but historians, and the crime is not Galileo’s but the Church’s.

Bucciantini, Camerota, and Giudice wrote their history like a film noir thriller: Sections often begin like police procedurals or movie storyboards (“Bologna, April 25, 1610, a Sunday”), and the crime itself unfolds slowly and visually. Not until the final page does what was really at stake all along become clear—religion's restraint on modernity, understood as scientific liberty....

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