Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century

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Galileo Galilei is one of the key figures in the history of science. One of his most famous exploits occurred when he was a young man of 26 at the very beginning of his career. In 1589, he had just been appointed as a Professor at the University of Pisa. Refusing to take Aristotle’s word as final on the behavior of falling bodies, Galileo climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa (actually the bell tower for the cathedral) and dropped various objects of different sizes and weights to test the idea that all bodies fall at the same rate. As it turned out, Aristotle was wrong – a fact which Galileo almost certainly knew before he conducted his very public demonstration.

This is a delightful children’s book by Wendy Macdonald of Australia and illustrated by Paolo Rui of Milan, Italy. It tells the story of Galileo’s famous experiment and makes the story accessible to children by introducing the character of Massimo, who looks to be about eight or nine. Galileo meets Massimo as he crosses the bridge where Massimo has been stationed with a mission to drop food onto the boat owned by his uncle as it passes underneath. Galileo stops to chat with the boy. He is intrigued as he observes that a heavy wheel of cheese and a much lighter loaf of bread land on the deck of the boat passing beneath the bridge at the same time. Massimo is surprised to discover that the young man talking to him is a professor at the University.

Watching Massimo drop food to his uncle from the bridge leads Galileo to begin questioning Aristotle, who stated that heavier things fell faster than lighter things. Massimo thinks about what Galileo has said and conducts his own experiments from the roof of his family’s farmhouse. This leads to a visit by Massimo to Galileo’s offices at the university. From there, it is only logical that Massimo will be Galileo’s assistant when he stages his very public demonstration from the top of the “Leaning Tower.”

Massimo is fictional, but Galileo’s observations and experiment from the top of the Tower are well-documented. The publisher lists this book’s target audience as children, ages 4 to 8. The text could certainly be read to younger children, but I think the history and science involved will be of interest to students through upper elementary and age 10-12.

The illustrations capture the feel of late Renaissance / early modern Italy and the excitement and optimism of the young Galileo as he studies the natural world directly and challenges Aristotle. It was a very important moment in the history of science – and a worthwhile story told in a very entertaining way.

Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment is 32 pages, available as a hardback for $16.95 or as a paperback for $7.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Highly recommended for your study of the Renaissance, the Age of Explorers, or to go along with Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century (which has a chapter on Galileo).

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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It’s done! Finished, edited, proofed and approved. And we have copies on the shelves!

The sequel to Famous Men of the Renaissance and Reformation.

Rather than reprinting Famous Men of Modern Times (which is a bit uneven in both tone and selection), we have made the decision to complete the Famous Men biography series with four new books:

  • Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century (Queen Elizabeth to Louis XIV) – available now
  • Famous Men of the 18th Century (Isaac Newton to Robespierre) – 2010
  • Famous Men of the 19th Century (Napoleon Bonaparte to Mark Twain) – 2011
  • Famous men of the 20th Century (Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan) – 2012

The 17th century was an age of religious wars and revolutions. The French had seven civil wars of religion from 1570-1590. The German Empire had a religious civil war from 1618-1648. The English had a civil war from 1642-1649. It was also the century in which the English and French settlements were founding colonies in North America at Jamestown, Plymouth, Boston, & Quebec. But learning the wars will not convey to students what the times were like. Biographies will. Twenty-eight key individuals are profiled in chronological order:

Birth Crowned Death




Catherine de’ Medici



Henry of Navarre (Henry IV)



Elizabeth I


Sir Francis Drake


Sir Walter Raleigh



James I


Matteo Ricci


William Shakespeare


John Smith





Gustavus Adolphus


Samuel de Champlain




Cardinal Richelieu



Charles I


Oliver Cromwell



William Bradford



John Winthrop


Blaise Pascal




John Milton


Johannes Vermeer



Charles II



Jan Sobieski



William of Orange (William III)


John Locke


Johan Pachelbel



Louis XIV

I am particularly pleased with how the chapters on the colonial founders turned out. John Smith (Jamestown), Samuel de Champlain (Quebec), William Bradford (Plymouth), and John Winthrop (Boston) all have incredible and fascinating stories. A simple comparison of their backgrounds and their reasons for leaving England and France will give students far more understanding about the founding of the colonies than any textbook can.

I also enjoyed greatly retelling the events of the English Civil War, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. These events (with a number of larger-than-life characters) were critical in shaping the political ideas of America’s Founding Fathers – whose stories I am looking forward to telling in Famous Men of the 18th Century.

I’ve also included accounts of the lives of artists (Rembrandt, Vermeer), a musician (Johan Pachelbel), and writers (Shakespeare & Milton) so that students will become acquainted with more than just the political history of the times.

The reading level is targeted on upper elementary/jr. high, but even older students and adults will find much here that gets left out of the textbook accounts.

Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century is 28 chapters, 228 pages and retails for $17.95, directly from Greenleaf Press.

Get ’em while they’re hot off the press!

– Rob Shearer, (author and) Publisher

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winthropI’ve just finished drafting a short biography of John Winthrop for my next book, Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century. The biographies begin with Queen Elizabeth and will end with the death of Louis XIV in 1715.

This has been a difficult chapter for me to write, and taken longer than I expected. I have developed an admiration for Winthrop, even if I have not been able to muster a great deal of affection. If I had known him, I might have liked him – but on the whole he seems to have had a very serious bent. Luther did too, but Luther had a playful, mischievous side to him that I greatly appreciate. I can find no hint of mischief in all of Winthrop’s writings.

Still, he is a man to be admired.

Part of the difficulty in writing about him is having to explain the culture and institutions within whose bounds he operated. He is an Englishman of the 1600s. Further, he is Puritan in his religious convictions. Further, he is from a moderately well-off, connected family from the Stour Valley in Suffolk. And he was a lawyer. I hope you get my drift.

Reasons to admire him? There are many.

His family – when he died, he had six surviving sons. The oldest was 48, the youngest barely a year old. Winthrop was widowed three times, twice before he was 30. He and his third wife were married for 29 years and had raised four sons together when she died. Winthrop, a widower at 59, married for a fourth time, and had a son who was just a year old when he died.

His leadership / perseverance – He joined the Puritan company who were planning to plant a colony in the new world in 1629 and was almost immediately elected governor. He organized a fleet of 11 ships and 700 colonists who sailed for Massachusetts just six months later.

His moderation – As governor he sought to reconcile embittered parties who came before him with legal disputes. He knew what a great freedom the Puritans had achieved by being granted a charter that allowed the colony to govern itself – without a royal, appointed governor.

His resolve – The life of the colonists was harsh, and challenging. Mortality was quite high – over 50% for many years. Threatened by disease, starvation, Indian attacks, and on occasion by internal quarrels, Winthrop persevered in seeing the colony grow and prosper. It had a population of over 15,000 when he died in 1649 – nineteen years after the first 700 had crossed the Atlantic in the Winthrop fleet.

Some may think the cases of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson are damaging to Winthrop’s reputation, but the original sources do not reflect badly on him. I would argue that Williams’ banishment from Massachusetts was not so harsh as later historians wish to portray it. In fact, after settling in Rhode Island, Williams and Winthrop maintained a friendly correspondence and sent each other gifts from time to time.

Anne Hutchinson is another matter altogether. I believe that the popular story of Hutchinson as an early feminist and a martyr for toleration and religious freedom can only be described as a great historical fraud. She has been adopted by those pursuing modern ideologies for their own reasons. In the record, it is clear that she was as intolerant (if not more so) as the Puritans of Boston. She was, in fact, agitating and organizing a faction in the church at Boston in an attempt to have one of the ministers dismissed and her brother-in-law appointed in his place. She claimed to know “by direct revelation of the Holy Spirit” who were truly elect and who were not. She charged that only Rev. Cotton and Rev. Wheelwright (her brother-in-law) were true ministers of the gospel and that all the other ministers of Massachusetts were preaching a false “covenant of works.” Had she succeeded, she would have gladly seen Winthrop banished from the colony.

Well.. chapter 18 is now drafted. The page count stands at 163. I have to finnish finding illustrations for these last few chapters. I have seven more to draft myself, and three to edit from the original Famous Men of Modern Times. Time to push on. . .

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It’s been a busy year! And it’s only June!

It occurred to me that I should take a minute and update friends & gentle readers on what’s been going on at Greenleaf Press. A lot, actually. I forget, in the day-to-day press of the urgent some of the significant things that we have accomplished. Here’s a quick review:

Last summer saw the re-launch of Valerie Bendt’s Reading Made Easy and the publication of Cyndy Shearer’s Greenleaf Guide to Medieval Literature.

This year, Greenleaf has released three new titles and we have several more exciting projects under development.

In March we released Handwriting by George Volume 2.

In April we released Voices of the Renaissance and Reformation.

In May we released The Sayings of Mrs. Solomon.

Projects under development:
Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century – I am happy to report that there are now twelve chapters written, out of a projected 28. Here’s the current, working version of the Table of Contents:


  1. Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589)
  2. Henry of Navarre (1553-1610)
  3. Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
  4. Sir Francis Drake (1540-1595)
  5. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)
  6. James I (1566-1625)
  7. Matteo Ricci (1552-1610)
  8. William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
  9. John Smith (1580-1631)
  10. Wallenstein (1583-1634)
  11. Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632)
  12. Samuel de Champlain (1570-1635)

Galileo (1564-1642)

Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642)

Charles I (1600-1649)

William Bradford (1590-1657)

John Winthrop (1588-1649) combine with Bradford?

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) may be too much overlap with Charles I?

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

Rembrandt (1606-1669)

John Milton (1608-1674)

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

Charles II (1630-1685)

Jan Sobieski (1629-1696)

William of Orange (1650-1702)

John Locke (1632-1704)

Johan Pachelbel (1653-1706)

Louis XIV (1638-1715)

When this project is finished, I plan to continue the series with the next volumes, Famous Men of the 18th Century, Famous Men of the 19th Century, and Famous Men of the 20th Century. I’m already looking forward to doing the chapters on Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II!

Handwriting by George, volumes 3 & 4 should be ready to go to the printer shortly. When all four volumes are out, we will have covered all 100 of George Washington’s maxims. Volumes 1 & 2 included the first 55.

Cyndy is working on editing the text of Alfred Church’s The Odyssey for Boys and Girls, which will join her wonderful edition of Church’s The Iliad for Boys and Girls (Greenleaf title: The Story of the Iliad) which we published in 2004. She is also working on the next volume in her high school inductive literature guides, The Greenleaf Guide to Early Modern Literature. We don’t have firm dates yet, but Cyndy’s high school guides are based on ten years teaching in local tutorial and co-op programs. The Ancient Lit and Medieval Lit guides are what she uses for her 9th grade and 10th grade classes. The Early Modern Guide and 20th Century Guide already exist and she’s been teaching these classes at the Schaeffer Study Center for the past six years. But she won’t let me publish them until she’s revised them to her satisfaction!

As always, we continue to scour the publisher’s catalogs to find the best children’s books published each year. The outstanding selection this year, so far, would have to be Pharaoh’s Boat. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Full review is still on the blog.

To get the latest reviews of new books and news about projects, got to the Greenleaf Press website and sign up for the Greenleaf newsletter by clicking on “Store” and logging yourself in (if you don’t have an account, you can create one). In the right-hand column, there is a green box titled “My Account.” It’s the third one from the top. Click on the My Account link in the box and you can subscribe (or unsubscribe) to the newsletter.

– Rob Shearer
(Publisher, Editor, sometime writer, husband & dad – not necessarily in that order!)

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