Leonardo da Vinci
The author of the acclaimed bestsellers Steve Jobs, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin brings Leonardo da Vinci to life in this exciting new biography.Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson weaves a narrative that connects his art to his science. He shows how Leonardo’s genius was based on skills we can improve in ourselves, such as passionate curiosity, careful observation, and an imagination so playful that it flirted with fantasy.He produced the two most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. But in his own mind, he was just as much a man of science and technology. With a passion that sometimes became obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. His ability to stand at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences, made iconic by his drawing of Vitruvian Man, made him history’s most creative genius.His creativity, like that of other great innovators, came from having wide-ranging passions. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, drew the muscles that move the lips, and then painted history’s most memorable smile. He explored the math of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea, and produced illusions of changing perspectives in The Last Supper. Isaacson also describes how Leonardo’s lifelong enthusiasm for staging theatrical productions informed his paintings and inventions.Leonardo’s delight at combining diverse passions remains the ultimate recipe for creativity. So, too, does his ease at being a bit of a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical. His life should remind us of the importance of instilling, both in ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it—to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different.

Leonardo da Vinci Details

TitleLeonardo da Vinci
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 17th, 2017
PublisherSimon Schuster
ISBN-139781501139154
Rating
GenreBiography, Nonfiction, History, Art, Science

Leonardo da Vinci Review

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    January 1, 1970
    ”Although generally considered by his contemporaries to be friendly and gentle, Leonardo was at times dark and troubled. His notebooks and drawings are a window into his fevered, imaginative, manic, and sometimes elated mind. Had he been a student at the outset of the twenty-first century, he may have been put on a pharmaceutical regimen to alleviate his mood swings and attention-deficit disorder. One need not subscribe to the artist-as-troubled-genius trope to believe we are fortunate that Leon ”Although generally considered by his contemporaries to be friendly and gentle, Leonardo was at times dark and troubled. His notebooks and drawings are a window into his fevered, imaginative, manic, and sometimes elated mind. Had he been a student at the outset of the twenty-first century, he may have been put on a pharmaceutical regimen to alleviate his mood swings and attention-deficit disorder. One need not subscribe to the artist-as-troubled-genius trope to believe we are fortunate that Leonardo was left to his own devices to slay his demons while conjuring up his dragons.” This paragraph made my blood run cold, not because I thought about how different the world would have been if Leonardo da Vinci had not been Leonardo da Vinci (tragic for sure), but because it made me wonder how many potential geniuses we are drugging into “normalcy.” Are some of the great artists and innovators of the 21st century hidden beneath the layers of a cornucopia of drugs?I remember, as a child, reading a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I thought that he had the coolest name I’d ever heard. My name seemed so pedestrian in comparison. I was even more struck by the term that still best defines him…Renaissance man. I wanted to be a Renaissance man. Unfortunately, I have fallen woefully short of that title, but the eclectic books I choose to read still show that that original desire to be a well rounded person is alive and well. In an age of specialisation, I find myself to be an outlier. I am asked so many times a year...how do you know that? <I read.I ponder.I am gifted with infinite curiosity.I want to know things just for the sake of knowing them. ”’Talent hits a target that no one else can hit,’ wrote the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. ‘Genius hits a target no one else can see.’”Whenever I read anything about Leonardo or gaze upon his paintings/drawings, I feel that same pang felt by Antonio Salieri whenever he would read that latest music composed by Mozart. I am awed by Vitruvian Man and Mona Lisa, but I am enamored with Lady with an Ermine, the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of the Duke Ludovico of Milan. Ludovico commissioned the painting after Cecilia gave him a son. There are so many things about this painting that arrest my attention. The alert, coiled energy of the ermine, looking as if it will jump out of the frame of the picture into my arms any second. The slight upward tilt of her lips, implying the hint of a smile. The enormous limpid eyes. The long elegant fingers that would have been a gift to a concert pianist. I can imagine the Duke coming to see her and just sitting in her rooms and watch her do...anything. While in Milan, Leonardo was also working on the famous bronze horse that was going to be three times bigger than any sculpture existing at the time. Unfortunately, this is one of the many great pieces of art by Da Vinci that was never finished, but in this case war was at fault. The bronze for his horse was used to make cannons, to no avail. The French take Milan, and troops used the clay model he had made, a masterpiece in itself, for target practice. Da Vinci left many unfinished paintings in his wake: The Adoration of the Magi, Battle of Anghiari, and Saint Jerome Praying in the Wilderness, just to name a few. Despite being unfinished, these paintings rocked the art world, and students flocked to see them.We have about 7,200 pages of Da Vinci’s notebooks, about a quarter of what he wrote. These notebooks are filled with sketches of inventions, few realized and most centuries ahead of their time, scribbles of ideas, doodles, and detailed drawings of his research into anatomy. Walter Isaacson absolutely loaded this volume with plates of Leonardo’s artwork, but also of pages of his notebooks. One, in particular, was very moving. I know I’ve seen this very image before, but life creates changes in all of us; something seen at 20 may not have near the impact on the same person who sees it at 50. There is something just so fragile, so human, so perfect about it that I felt overcome by the beauty of...us. He worked for a variety of powerful, diverse men, from Ludovico Sforza to Cesare Borgia to Francis the 1st of France. Leonardo was a sensitive man, but also had a very astute interest in war. He offered many times in his life to make machines of war for various patrons. ”The brutality of war didn’t repulse him as much as it seemed to mesmerize him, and the goriness he described would be reflected in the drawings he made for his battle mural: ”You must make the dead covered with dust, which is changed intocrimson mire where it has mingled with the blood issuing in a stream from the corpse. The dying will be grinding their teeth, theireyeballs rolling heavenward as they beat their bodies with their fistsand twist their limbs. Some might be shown disarmed and beatendown by the enemy, turning upon the foe to take an inhuman andbitter revenge with teeth and nails….Some maimed warrior may be seen fallen to the earth, covering himself with his shield, whilethe enemy, bending over him, tries to deal him a deadly blow.” So vivid, without him even picking up a brush, we know this mural would have been unsettling and would not at all idealize the splendors or nobility of war. It might have even given a psychopath like Cesare Borgia pause. Peter Paul Rubens reimagining of what Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari would have looked like.I’ve read other books by Isaacson so I knew that the genius of Leonardo da Vinci was safe in the hands of the writer who has specialized in writing about some of the greatest minds in history. Da Vinci comes vividly to life in this biography and the magnificent plates scattered throughout the text of his life’s work. This is a beautiful, heavy book, printed on high grade paper, and will make the perfect gift for those of infinite curiosity. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
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  • Bill Gates
    January 1, 1970
    Shortly after Melinda and I got married, I told her I was bidding on a notebook that could wind up costing a lot of money. “Don’t you already have a great portable computer?” she asked.I explained that by “notebook,” I meant the old-fashioned kind. And by “old-fashioned,” I meant really old-fashioned, as in more than 500 years old. The notebook in question was one of the 32 surviving journals of Leonardo da Vinci.After I won the bid, I broke a longstanding tradition. I was supposed to change the Shortly after Melinda and I got married, I told her I was bidding on a notebook that could wind up costing a lot of money. “Don’t you already have a great portable computer?” she asked.I explained that by “notebook,” I meant the old-fashioned kind. And by “old-fashioned,” I meant really old-fashioned, as in more than 500 years old. The notebook in question was one of the 32 surviving journals of Leonardo da Vinci.After I won the bid, I broke a longstanding tradition. I was supposed to change the name from Codex Hammer (the previous owner was the industrialist Armand Hammer) to Codex Gates, but I thought that sounded silly and I changed the name back to Codex Leicester, the name it held from 1719 until 1980.The Codex Leicester is not nearly as famous as artworks such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. And Dan Brown fans will be disappointed to know that it doesn’t contain codes protecting age-old secrets. But it’s a scientific treasure. In fact, there are insights, such as one about how blood flows through the heart, that were so far ahead of their time that researchers finally verified them only a few decades ago.Given my fascination with Leonardo, I was eager to read Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Isaacson’s new biography. I’ve read a lot about Leonardo over the years, but I had never found one book that satisfactorily covered all the different facets of his life and work. Walter—a talented journalist and author I’ve gotten to know over the years—did a great job pulling it all together. If you liked Walter’s major biographies of Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, you’ll probably appreciate this one.More than any other Leonardo book I’ve read, this one helps you see him as a complete human being and understand just how special he was. He came close to understanding almost all of what was known on the planet at the time. That’s partly because scientific knowledge was relatively limited back then, partly because he had a high IQ, but mostly because he was insatiably curious about pretty much every area of natural science and the human experience. He studied, in meticulous detail, everything from the flow of water and the rise of smoke to the muscles you use when you smile.Amazingly, he did it with almost no formal schooling. His father was a notary, a profession that gave him some prominence and prosperity, so Leonardo never had to work in the fields. But because Leonardo was born out of wedlock (his mother was a poor, orphaned peasant girl), he was not sent off to school. That turned out to be a blessing. Leonardo got free time to wander, look at nature, and start creating notebooks full of observations and ideas. He became, in his own words, “a disciple of experience.”Isaacson also does a great job of explaining why Leonardo’s work is so revered. Unless you’re an art historian, you might even wonder if paintings like the Mona Lisa are famous just for being famous. But Walter shows how Leonardo’s genius is in the details. “He became fascinated about how a smile begins to form and instructed himself to analyze every possible movement of each part of the face and determine the origin of every nerve that controls each facial muscle,” he writes. “Tracing which of those nerves are cranial and which are spinal may not have been necessary for painting a smile, but Leonardo needed to know.”Despite his remarkable artistic talent, Leonardo barely thought of himself as a painter. When he was about 30 years old, he applied for a job with the ruler of Milan. After listing interests from military engineering to science to designing sets for plays, he included almost as an afterthought, “I can also paint.” There was one downside to having such broad interests: He often switched his focus to new domains right in the middle of a project, leaving works unfinished. Here’s a classic example: After Leonardo won a coveted commission to create a large statue of a nobleman perched on a horse, Leonardo procrastinated by going down multiple rabbit roles. For example, he dissected horses to understand their anatomy, created new systems for feeding horses, and designed cleaner stables. He never completed the statue, and he never published the treatise on horses he started.When you look across all of Leonardo’s many abilities and his few failings, the attribute that stands out above all else was his sense of wonder and curiosity. When he wanted to understand something—whether it was the flow of blood through the heart or the shape of a woodpecker’s tongue—he would observe it closely, scribble down his thoughts, and then try to figure it all out. It’s a bit of a lost art these days—even though, in the age of free Wikipedia entries and YouTube videos, it’s easier than ever to satisfy your curiosity. It’s ironic that we can be reminded about the wonders of modern life by a man who lived 500 years ago.
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  • Hannah Greendale
    January 1, 1970
    Marvelous! Isaacson's comprehensive biography is written to delight, to inform, and to inspire curiosity. Video review to come in my March Wrap Up.
  • Matt
    January 1, 1970
    “ How might you describe the tongue of a woodpecker?” And so it begins, in my ongoing attempt to learn more about important figures in history. This time, I turned to the latest biography by Walter Isaacson, exploring the life of Leonardo da Vinci. A man of many talents, da Vinci lived a full and exciting life as he sought to scratch the many itches that came to mind and paved the way for scores of significant discoveries. Isaacson offers a thorough and highly informative piece that will educate “ How might you describe the tongue of a woodpecker?” And so it begins, in my ongoing attempt to learn more about important figures in history. This time, I turned to the latest biography by Walter Isaacson, exploring the life of Leonardo da Vinci. A man of many talents, da Vinci lived a full and exciting life as he sought to scratch the many itches that came to mind and paved the way for scores of significant discoveries. Isaacson offers a thorough and highly informative piece that will educate the reader without inflating the narrative with scores of minute facts. Isaacson presents da Vinci in three distinct lights throughout this piece: the animated artist, the inquisitive inventor, and the abstract anatomist, all of which are interconnected and help to better understand the man whose name is synonymous with so many things. Supported by an extensive collection of drawings, referenced throughout, Isaacson brings Leonardo da Vinci to life with this exceptional biography. Perfect for the curious mind and those who want a better understanding of art, history and symbolism without the dramatic scandal of a certain Robert Langdon.Leonardo da Vinci was surely one of the most animated artists of his time, if not in history. Born a left-handed bastard during the golden days of those who were conceived out of wedlock, da Vinci found his early years to be ones of independent exploration. His father refused to legitimate him, nor did he push to have the young Leonardo follow in his footsteps as a notary, which left the young da Vinci to turn to one of the other important positions of the time, an apprenticeship with a local artist. Florence was a rich locale for art and da Vinci learned his trade from many who sought to teach him how to capture the human form. However, as Isaacson denotes throughout, da Vinci chose not to capture the ‘wooden’ nature of artists at the time and sought to forge his own path by injecting curves and softer depictions of canvas creations. As he grew older, da Vinci tried to instil those beliefs in his own apprentices, with a strong focus on detail and nuance to bring the portraits to life, without falling back on a ‘sack of walnuts’ when presenting images on canvas. Isaacson references something that da Vinci wrote in one of his journals, where the master artist is said to have expressed that painting is both artistic and scientific in nature, with shading and colours that helps capture the subject from all angles. Given some key backgrounds on a number of da Vinci’s key pieces of art, Isaacson provides the reader with something that will open the mind and lead to a number of questions. Biblical references and symbols fill many of da Vinci’s works, which cannot be lost on the attentive reader, though this is more than the controversial ideas Dan Brown offers in a piece of fiction. The eager reader will be happy to see that Isaacson spent an entire chapter analysing and positing the foundations of the famed Mona Lisa, as well as speaking to its intricate detail, which combines all three personas from the biography. It is clear that da Vinci’s art is both full of detail and animated in its own right, which provides the viewer a chance to thoroughly interpret it when taking the time to absorb his vast collections found all over the world. Surely the man’s art is innovative and worthy of deep exploration, without getting stuck on too many stuffy aspects.The inquisitive nurture of da Vinci’s art work can easily be duplicated in his numerous inventions, as documented in his journals. At a time when the Renaissance was in full swing, da Vinci began to have many ideas about how he might be able to help with the new forms of artistic expression. Isaacson discusses da Vinci’s desire to help personalise some of the religious stage plays of the day, where angels had to fly from one end to the other, at a time when man and earth were sorrowfully bound together. The idea of flight and pulleys came to da Vinci, as he crafted these theoretical mechanisms. Hundreds of years ahead of his time, da Vinci had many ideas that would, at one time, find their way into the mainstream. Isaacson argues that da Vinci’s inventions could sometimes be practical means of filling a gap in what was on the market, but there were also strong influences (particularly anatomy) that left da Vinci full of questions, only to be solved by the development of some inventions to better understand concepts that were unknown to the scientific world. The reader will marvel at the extent to da Vinci’s innovative spirit, pushing the boundaries of what might be possible, all to help fill the void of his inquisitive nature. Not all of his inventions were meant to aid in artistic expression. There is surely a strong influence on the political happenings of the day—da Vinci had relationships with both the Borgia and Sforza families, vicious as they were—whereby war machines were devised. There is talk of tank-like structures and catapults to launch objects over palace walls, both ideas that would have been fostered by the bloody campaigns those two aforementioned families sought in their respective domains. The collection of drawings included in the biography permit the reader to marvel at the vast array of sketches and how da Vinci could have made a greater name for himself (as if he needed more notoriety). It is readily apparent that da Vinci’s innovative spirit was fuelled by a need to better understand the world around him, just as his art sought to open new means of expression at the dawn of the Renaissance. Well before his inventions could be formally created, da Vinci showed how his inquisitive nature was influenced by his thirst for knowledge, especially when he was parched and left to wonder about the inner workings of the human machine, the body!Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects that recurs throughout the biography is da Vinci’s love of all things anatomical. From the veins in the hands to the inner workings of a foetus and the valves of the heart, da Vinci was keen to dissect bodies to better understand the inner workings of various organs and systems. During a time when the Church was still wavering on the dissection of humans, da Vinci sought to open his horizons by exploring the inner workings of various animals, when human cadavers were not available. The desire to better comprehend the human body fuelled da Vinci’s desire to posit about the workings of organs and systems, at a time when nothing could be done ‘live’ or with the body still functioning. Isaacson explores da Vinci’s desire to better understand heart valves and the movement of blood, simply because he could not wrap his head around what might be going on. While he could devise a few experiments and reconstructed the heart, it was only in the 1960s that much of what da Vinci predicted could be proven entirely correct. Not only did da Vinci seek to explore the anatomy of the human body, he felt it essential to depict it in sketches from all angles. Without the ability to properly store the cadavers, da Vinci had only a short time to properly sketch the anatomical subjects. Some of these anatomy explorations surely led to inventions that made their way into da Vinci’s journals and also permitted some of the intricate detail found in numerous pieces of art, namely one of his most popular, the Vitruvian Man, where da Vinci showed extensive understanding of length proportions of the ‘perfect’ subject. Isaacson explores this in detail during part of the biography and may be of significant interest to the reader. Surely his biological curiosities made da Vinci’s creations better and provided the viewer with a better understanding of the realism the artist sought in his work. It is baffling not to look at all three aspects of Leonardo da Vinci now that I have taken the time to explore them, and see just how imbued his art and innovations were with all three perspectives. I would be remiss if I did not discuss the presentation of the biography and place Isaacson under the literary microscope. The thorough presentation of Leonardo da Vinci’s life helped create a better understanding of the man and his numerous endeavours. I will admit that I am not a major fan of art, nor do I pretend to understand the intricacies of paintings (gasp or toss the odd rotten tomato now). That being said, after reading this and viewing the countless images that Isaacson included in the book, I have a better understanding of the nuances that certain artists use, as well as the symbolism inherent for the viewer to better communicate with the artist. Isaacson takes the time to explain many of da Vinci’s influences, as well as fleshing out some of the symbols that da Vinci uses in his work. Referencing not only da Vinci’s work, but also scholarly references and fellow biographers, Isaacson provides a thorough narrative for the reader to better understand the man and some of his thinking. Adding the images to the book permits the reader to see, first hand, some of the sketches that da Vinci created at different times in his life, even if it creates an Olympic event to toggle between text and image (only made more difficult for those who used the audio version, such as myself). When referencing his various creations, having a visual compendium helps the reader to match something up with the narrative and brings the story to life in a new dimension. This enriches the experience and permits the reader to feel an active part of the process as the layers of da Vinci’s life become more apparent to the attentive reader. While some chapters are long, they ought not be daunting, as the narrative flows so well and the storytelling is second to none. Isaacson has spent as much time here as he did with some of his other key biographical pieces, all of which should be considered by the reader whose curiosity is not sated with this piece. And... as for that woodpecker question I posed to start this review, there’s a nugget of interest that da Vinci never fully explored, but Isaacson offers up.Kudos, Mr. Isaacson, for helping pave the way towards a better understanding of this key historical figure. You bring Leonardo da Vinci to life and help the reader want to know more, which is essential in a biographical piece.Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
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  • Chrissie
    January 1, 1970
    The audiobook is a fantastic production. It is in this manner non-fiction audiobooks should be made. You are given a huge PDF file with 144 pictures, a character list and a timeline. To get the most out of the audiobook one should sit by a computer and look at the pictures as one listens; the audiobook follows the pictures one by one in the order they are presented, each picture being referred to in the text. Each is minutely analyzed and discussed. A listener is given clear instructions stating The audiobook is a fantastic production. It is in this manner non-fiction audiobooks should be made. You are given a huge PDF file with 144 pictures, a character list and a timeline. To get the most out of the audiobook one should sit by a computer and look at the pictures as one listens; the audiobook follows the pictures one by one in the order they are presented, each picture being referred to in the text. Each is minutely analyzed and discussed. A listener is given clear instructions stating where exactly to look and what you will there observe. I did see exactly what I was told I would see, most of the time. You could say that rather than listening you are looking at a flow of pictures while someone is giving you a well thought out guided tour of Leonardo da Vinci’s artworks, his notebooks and models of his imaginative creations. Mona Lisa and the Last Supper are of course shown. While I have seen both in reality, the first in the Louvre and the second in Milan, I saw them more clearly here in this book! There are pictures of Leonardo’s death-bed with his final patron King Francis supporting him, pictures of Michelangelo’s statues and paintings enabling the listener to make comparisons of the artists’ divergent techniques and pictures of Leonardo’s closest companions. You see some pictures up close and others at a distance giving you the most advantageous perspective. The pictures are of high quality and can be magnified, making it possible to focus in on a detail. The notebooks are mirrored; Leonardo being left-handed, wrote from right to left. I actually believe that the audio version may in fact be better than the written book in that you can magnify the pictures and you can listen while you look!Alfred Molina reads the audiobook clearly and at an appropriate tempo. I cannot judge the Italian accent, not knowing Italian myself. If Italian names are not your forte, the accompanying PDF list of main characters is very helpful. I found the narration very good and so have given the performance four stars. What about the book’s content? Is it balanced, revealing Leonardo’s weaknesses as well as his talents? Are sources referenced? Are opposing views voiced and a convincing resolution to the disputes drawn? Yes, yes and yes. The book has a pedagogic tone. It is not long; it does not go off on lengthy tangents detailing history, state and religious conflicts, description of cities (Florence, Milan and Rome) nor famous people (such as other artists, several of the Medicis, Machiavelli, the Popes of the late 15th and early 16th centuries and of course Savonarola). The information is at times repetitive, this being done most often to emphasize a point. A basic understanding of the history of the early Renaissance will make the book more interesting, but is not a prerequisite. First and foremost, the author wants to make clear Leonardo’s ability to see the world as a whole. His knowledge was multidisciplinary. He excelled in not one field but in many – art, engineering, optics, anatomy, architecture, urban planning and more. He drew analogies from one field of thought to another. His curiosity was boundless.Did I get to know the man, by that I mean his personality, his sexual proclivities and desires, his dreams and his shortcomings? Yes. Some of his projects failed totally, and often he did not finish what he had begun. One could debate if that is a fault or a strength. Perhaps by putting an artwork or a project aside he could later make improvements. Think the Mona Lisa, St. John the Baptiste, St. Anne and his calculations concerning the comparative areas of a circle and a rectangle. His penchant for list-making is both wonderful and humorous. What shines out most is his curiosity, his imagination, his ability to observe, really observe things you and I do not even notice, things right there before our eyes but to which we are blind. Have you looked at the speed of birds’ wings on the up versus the down swing? Or how water swirls or how what we see up close differs from what we see at a distance or from the side. From observations, he then devised experiments. He saw patterns and drew analogies linking disparate fields of science. To say he was ahead of his time is an understatement. The book moves forward chronologically. Not much is known about his earliest years. The book begins with an introduction and ends with a conclusion, both of which in the audiobook are read by the author. His admiration for Leonardo is evident, but he remains clear-eyed too. The conclusion summarizes what we can learn from Leonardo’s life. What can he teach us? What can we do to make our own lives fuller and better? It’s a good conclusion, albeit a bit preachy. In the same vein, I will finish with these guidelines:*Be curious. *Open your eyes. Observe all that around you.*Appreciate nature.*Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. *Making to-do lists is good. These are not my guidelines but his. I like them.
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  • Darwin8u
    January 1, 1970
    “he never finished any of the works he began because, so sublime was his idea of art, he saw faults even in the things that to others seemed miracles.” ― Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci This was an interesting biography, and an interesting approach, but it just wasn't great. Isaacson is one of those former editors of large, popular news magazines who can seemingly throw out a biography every couple years. He loves writing about transformative geniuses and polymaths, thus his books on: Steve J “he never finished any of the works he began because, so sublime was his idea of art, he saw faults even in the things that to others seemed miracles.” ― Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci This was an interesting biography, and an interesting approach, but it just wasn't great. Isaacson is one of those former editors of large, popular news magazines who can seemingly throw out a biography every couple years. He loves writing about transformative geniuses and polymaths, thus his books on: Steve Jobs, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, and Kissinger[?]. Obviously, from any perspective, Leonardo da Vinci (the first among Renaissance Men) belongs on this list. I even liked Isaacson's approach of using Leonardo's notebooks as the backbone of this book. Or at least that was how Isaacson presented this book. Isaacson, however, kept drifting back to a soft narrative storytelling that comes naturally to him. It made the book, however, a bit uneven and choppy. The notebooks, with their art, doodles, ramblings, and jumps, are hard to translate into a Costco-selling bestseller.To be fair to Isaacson, I did just finish, last year, Caro's four (so far) volume series on LBJ. So, it is unlikely ANY biographer would get more than 4-stars after Caro. But still, I was hoping for a bit more from Isaacson.
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  • Michael Finocchiaro
    January 1, 1970
    Honestly, I preferred Serge Bramly's 1991 Da Vinci biography to this one by Isaacson. I read (and reviewed here on GR) his biographies of Einstein and Ben Franklin, and found them both really good. In the present work, the author is way too present in my opinion and pitches his Steve Jobs biography on nearly every other page. OK, I am exaggerating but only a little bit. Did I learn some stuff about my favorite Renaissance Man? Yes, I did and I did appreciate the insight into the major works and Honestly, I preferred Serge Bramly's 1991 Da Vinci biography to this one by Isaacson. I read (and reviewed here on GR) his biographies of Einstein and Ben Franklin, and found them both really good. In the present work, the author is way too present in my opinion and pitches his Steve Jobs biography on nearly every other page. OK, I am exaggerating but only a little bit. Did I learn some stuff about my favorite Renaissance Man? Yes, I did and I did appreciate the insight into the major works and the theories about some of the lost or disputed ones as well. However, I felt the presence of Isaacson more than that of Da Vinci and would have preferred the latter over the former.
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  • Melody Sams
    January 1, 1970
    If you like a little psychology with your history, this is a book for you! It gives you a wonderful insight into the mind of one of the most fascinating men in human history. Da Vinci was quite the character. A bit enigmatic and mercurial. It was a delight learning more about his personality through this book.
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  • Netta
    January 1, 1970
    Unlike many readers of this book who were well acquainted with Walter Isaacson and loved his previous works, I picked this biography being quite sceptical and absolutely unaware of how Isaacson approaches his subjects. His bibliography looks like a very impressive collection of genii of all sorts - Jobs, Einstein, Kissinger and Franklin. Surely, adding Leonardo da Vinci to this list must be tempting, but this task, if you ask me, was too difficult for Isaacson to handle. Apparently, Isaacson can Unlike many readers of this book who were well acquainted with Walter Isaacson and loved his previous works, I picked this biography being quite sceptical and absolutely unaware of how Isaacson approaches his subjects. His bibliography looks like a very impressive collection of genii of all sorts - Jobs, Einstein, Kissinger and Franklin. Surely, adding Leonardo da Vinci to this list must be tempting, but this task, if you ask me, was too difficult for Isaacson to handle. Apparently, Isaacson cannot be blamed for the lack of research as he constantly quotes Martin Kemp, Kenneth Clark, Carmen Bambach, Luke Syson, Vasari, early Leonardo biographers and many others (look at the Notes section of this book and you’d be impressed), and often refers to the facts that cannot be easily found on Wikipedia (they can be easily found in better written books on Leonardo and his art, but never mind). And yet it’s not enough to tell the story of an artist, inventor, engineer and a "Renaissance Man". Actually, the question arose while I was reading this book, if telling the story of Leonardo was Isaacson’s original intention at all or what he did want to do was to write a self-help book, dissecting Leonardo’s genius and mercilessly dragging him into the 21st century (the thing that Kenneth Clark thought should be avoided by all means). In the description of this book another question is posed: “What secrets can he [Leonardo] teach us?”, and Isaacson did his utmost to answer it. He devotes the whole chapter to summarizing what we can learn from Leonardo, including being curious, retaining ”a childlike sense of wonder”, observing, getting distracted, respecting facts etc. However, do we indeed have to learn from Leonardo, taking into account that the book is not called “Learning from Leonardo. Mastering your inner genius”? It is also palpable that Walter Isaacson is neither art critic nor art historian. And yet he burdened himself with creating descriptions of Leonardo’s works which very soon became dull, being mostly constructed out of repeated adjectives, and the analysis of Leonardo’s technics which very soon became dull too, as it never goes farther than constantly mentioning sfumato, soft contours and tones. Describing the painting Isaacson looks like someone who’s reciting something he does not fully understand and thus cannot explain. And I cannot but mention that the Benois Madonna is exhibited in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. not Moscow as Isaacson states. The chapters devoted to Leonardo’s inventions, however, make up for it as Isaacson seem to be more enthusiastic about them or, maybe, this area is more familiar to him (and less familiar to me). The other thing which makes this book a mess sometimes is its poor structure. Chapters on some life milestones, art, study and what Isaacson calls ”personal turmoil” are mixed, making concentration on the subject of each chapter rather difficult. The fact that Isaacson wants to put everything into the context of the era does not help at all. He creates quite a few characters around Leonardo - all of them vivid and to some extent appealing, but so irritably far away from reality. They look like they stepped into this biography from some fiction book where they were sketched by the author in order to move plot forward. What has to be admired though is Isaacson’s approach to Leonardo’s personal life. Unlike many other biographers who try to manipulate the facts (hello, Mr Nicholl, I’m talking about you), Isaacson treats Leonardo with due respect and does not make any attempt to own his subject. This is, probably, the very first book where the fact that Leonardo was an illegitimate child is presented as Leonardo’s luck, not as a childhood trauma, because it allowed him to be a painter (and whoever he wanted to be), not his father’s heir burdened with many duties he had no chance to fulfil properly. And yet Isaacson tends to oversimplify some relationship in Leonardo’s life and some of his intentions, apparently trying to mimic his subject and create soft contours and biographic sfumato. If quickly grasping some general information about Leonardo and forming major opinion of the nature of his genius (and what you can learn from him) is all that you want, Walter Isaacson’s book is almost perfect (or at least very promising). It explores every side of Leonardo’s genius and sums up quite a bit of research, but lacks admiration for the person and has subtle undertones of self-help book which, I suppose, can be excused.
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  • Barry Pierce
    January 1, 1970
    Walter Isaacson never makes Leonardo out to be anymore more than a human being. He points out that art history can often descend into hagiography, especially when it comes to its greatest minds. Both Vasari and Kenneth Clark placed Leonardo on a god-like pedestal, untouched by any other human in history and in possession of a truly divine mind. Isaacson does his best to refute this. He paints Leonardo as almost painfully human, as a man who rarely finished any of the jobs he began and whose atte Walter Isaacson never makes Leonardo out to be anymore more than a human being. He points out that art history can often descend into hagiography, especially when it comes to its greatest minds. Both Vasari and Kenneth Clark placed Leonardo on a god-like pedestal, untouched by any other human in history and in possession of a truly divine mind. Isaacson does his best to refute this. He paints Leonardo as almost painfully human, as a man who rarely finished any of the jobs he began and whose attention and interests fluctuated like the waves.Most of us know Leonardo first and foremost as a great artist. However, we are all also aware of his notebooks, filled to the margins with meditations on geometry, mathematics, anatomical studies, studies of hydraulics and numerous to-do lists. If you want a book solely on Leonardo's artistic endeavours then this book is not for you. Isaacson has numerous chapters on every facet of Leonardo's studies. Which means that you will often find yourself deep in a chapter about studies of the flow of water or efforts to square the circle. Interdisciplinarity was something of Leonardo's forte, melding art and science together in his notebooks and canvases, and Isaacson reflects this in his biography, creating a book which covers a vast amount of topics.Having a degree in art history, I was interested to see how Isaacson would tackle Leonardo. I am very familiar with most of the accounts that Isaacson relies upon, especially Vasari's short, fanciful biography. I found Isaacson to be more than competent when writing about art. I think he keeps it to the basics though, discussing only the most surface analyses of each work, which was probably more an editing issue rather than the fault of the author. Also by not having a background in art history, Isaacson avoids writing in 'international art English' or 'Artspeak' as those of us in the field call it. Basically it is the incomprehensible form of English that many art historians write in which is just drenched in metaphor and imagery and is completely inaccessible to the common reader. Therefore it was actually quite refreshing to read about Leonardo's works in a language resembling English.However, Isaacson is not afraid to put his opinion across on the meanings on some of Leonardo's most complex mysteries. I suppose he's allowed to be impartial, it is his book, but it does come across as somewhat jarring when the author suddenly jumps from the role as narrator and then begins to give his opinions on topics. Another fault of Isaacson's prose is his repetition of facts. He doesn't use a linear timeline for this biography, instead going topic-by-topic. Therefore, in his jumping around of the timeline he often states things that he has stated before, and events that we have already discussed. It doesn't happen often enough to constitute as bad editing, but it does happen often enough for me to notice.Overall I found this to be an expansive and well-researched biography of one of the Renaissance's greatest minds. Some may take offence at Isaacson's portrait of Leonardo, which shows him not as a god but as a flawed human being. I found this quite refreshing, personally. It made Leonardo almost seem relatable when we hear about his Olympic-level procrastination and his lifelong inability to actually finish projects. Isaacson has done an amazing job of humanising Leonardo and that is the book's greatest achievement.
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  • Lou
    January 1, 1970
    There is plenty to learn here about Leonardo DaVinci, and his art, its histories unravelled, codexes explained in ways, and the story of the process and people in the art work.Detail, details meticulously written by the author, almost with obsession like mastery and a hugely accessible reading.Mysteries of the man, the artist, scientist and engineer and the two most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa expounded in a glorious work of profound inspiration.A multitude of There is plenty to learn here about Leonardo DaVinci, and his art, its histories unravelled, codexes explained in ways, and the story of the process and people in the art work.Detail, details meticulously written by the author, almost with obsession like mastery and a hugely accessible reading.Mysteries of the man, the artist, scientist and engineer and the two most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa expounded in a glorious work of profound inspiration.A multitude of notebooks he had written, Leonardo, so much writings, inspirations, a beast against the artist block and creativity resistance. 7200 pages of notes and scribbleslast suppermona lisavitruvius mansaint jerome in the wildernessrenaissance maninnovationimaginationcombining observation with fantasywillambitionfeveredmaniclefthandedborn Tuscan village of Vinciillegitimategayvegetariangeniusscienceengineeringartstechnologyanatomyfossilsbirdshorsesthe heartflying machinesopticsbotanygeologywater flowsweaponrywork with Borgia and MachiavelliReview with video interview @ https://more2read.com/review/leonardo-da-vinci-walter-isaacson/
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  • Janet
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you, Net Galley for the opportunity to review this book --- as people who follow me know, I do not regurgitate what the book is about as that is what the description from the author and publisher at the top of the page are for.This book is very well written.This book is very longThis book has many interesting facts ... his paintings are mathematical and he was gay.Did I mention that this book is very long??? This book is full of insane details...pages and pages and pages of insane details. Thank you, Net Galley for the opportunity to review this book --- as people who follow me know, I do not regurgitate what the book is about as that is what the description from the author and publisher at the top of the page are for.This book is very well written.This book is very longThis book has many interesting facts ... his paintings are mathematical and he was gay.Did I mention that this book is very long??? This book is full of insane details...pages and pages and pages of insane details.This book is very long.At times I felt like screaming TMI!Did I mention that this book is EXTREMELY long??? I think back to Bill Clinton's memoir "My Life" where I just felt like screaming GET TO THE POINT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Because ... this book is wowza long.I just could not finish it ... it was just not up my alley -- it gets 3 stars for being excellent --- if it was readable it would have gotten 4 but ... This book is very long.
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  • Gary
    January 1, 1970
    Walter is a storyteller....If you have read his other bios, you already know this. Same situation here...but I must warn you....Leonardo was a very complicated man....a genius in his art....kept copious notes about everything he thought, felt, and dreamed about....he was a scientist,way ahead of his time,and he used science in his art, and mathematics in his paintings. Walter included all the vast details, because that's the type of person Leonardo was.....and while reading this book his paintin Walter is a storyteller....If you have read his other bios, you already know this. Same situation here...but I must warn you....Leonardo was a very complicated man....a genius in his art....kept copious notes about everything he thought, felt, and dreamed about....he was a scientist,way ahead of his time,and he used science in his art, and mathematics in his paintings. Walter included all the vast details, because that's the type of person Leonardo was.....and while reading this book his painting fetched a $450 million dollar price, a record in the art world..... I can't recommend this book enough...but before you delve into it,and scream how boring it is, and how it's just too detailed for you....... Skip it, because you really don't have the interest or fascination for this genius......just sayin.I LOVED it all.... I LOVED HEARING everything about this important man in the arts,sciences,and mathematics world. Truly an amazing individual.If you think you are ready to read about this vastly complicated, and eccentrically interesting man....enjoy! It's quite a ride!!
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  • Dana Aprigliano (TheVaguelyArticulateReader)
    January 1, 1970
    Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It is a 600 page-long biography which I read in a hardcover version so heavy it could probably shatter some bones if I dropped it on my foot. The pages are made of thick, glossy paper, and they are all littered with images of the pages of da Vinci’s journals, da Vinci’s various artworks, and more. The jacket, also made of a thick paper that I can only imagine the cost of mass production for, features a Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It is a 600 page-long biography which I read in a hardcover version so heavy it could probably shatter some bones if I dropped it on my foot. The pages are made of thick, glossy paper, and they are all littered with images of the pages of da Vinci’s journals, da Vinci’s various artworks, and more. The jacket, also made of a thick paper that I can only imagine the cost of mass production for, features a front-cover portrait of da Vinci himself and a back-cover image of da Vinci’s infamous Vitruvian Man drawing. My copy of the biography was also signed by the author; I purchased it from my local Barnes and Noble on this past Black Friday when Barnes and Noble was having a promotion. Chances are that if I had not gotten this book in such impeccable condition and signed, I might not have actually bought it at all. I’m rating this book four and a half out of five stars.Technically, Isaacson’s da Vinci is, dare I say it, perfect. Isaacson presents da Vinci’s life and work in such a way that is not only interest-holding but memorable. Isaacson’s voice is not dry in the least bit. Information is presented in a logical way, as well; in some biographies and history books I’ve read in the past, time is not presented in chronological order (I’m referring specifically to Mary Beard’s SPQR with that comment). But Isaacson organizes his narrative so that in the introduction, he literally introduces us to all the most basic facts about da Vinci that the reader will need to know throughout the biography; then, he alternatively presents to the reader da Vinci’s private life, public works, private drawings and ambitions, and public relationships with his Renaissance artist contemporaries. Historically, the biography is impeccably researched. There is absolutely no biography of Leonardo da Vinci written in modern history that could measure up with this one in terms of how much information it presents. It is almost overwhelming at first glance how much there is to know about da Vinci, let alone how much of that is actually contained in this volume. And yet, as I read this book, I did not at all feel overwhelmed. Da Vinci was such an interesting man, and I mean that in the sincerest meaning of the word. He procrastinated endlessly, yet the forms that his procrastination would take were not the trivial things most people do when they procrastinate; when da Vinci procrastinated, he drew revolutionary anatomical models and composed theories about science and math unparalled by any others formed at the time. And then when he went back to work, he created such important works of art as the Mona Lisa. Da Vinci was also known for never really completing anything; he would accept commissions for artworks that he would never finish, even in cases in which he would be threatened if he did not finish. He also kept putting finishing touches on the Mona Lisa until the day he died, leaving me to wonder if even that was ever really completed in da Vinci’s mind.Furthermore, being that this is also the most recent biography written on da Vinci, it is the most accurate in terms of the quality of the information. There have been a lot of findings made in the very recent past with relation to works that were thought to be da Vinci’s but were nonetheless of unsure origin, and some of these findings add on to the current body of da Vinci’s work. Isaacson is probably the first to write about many of these new additions to da Vinci’s corpus in a work created more with the average person than a historian or academic in mind. Isaacson even includes details about pages of da Vinci’s journal just found and proven to have actually been da Vinci’s in the year 2017, the same year that the book was published in (the findings were made in early 2017, and the book was published in October 2017).So, what didn’t I like about this book that made me give it four and a half stars instead of five? Well… nothing, really. My one complaint about this book is really based on a matter of my preference. I am not a person who’s particularly into math or science, and I’d say that a good 200-300 pages of this book are dedicated to da Vinci’s mathematical and scientific discoveries. I tended to skim those pages. But like I said, that’s just because my taste does not lend me to truly appreciate this part of the text. These pages that I was skimming were not at all bad; I just wasn’t really interested in their subject matter.Bottom line, this is a fantastic book that I would recommend to everyone, even those who do not normally read biographies or nonfiction books. I think that everyone could find some value in this book, even if it is just to look at all the high-res pictures of da Vinci’s beautiful art.Review originally posted on THE VAGUELY ARTICULATE READER blog at thevaguelyarticulatereader.wordpress....
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  • Matt Tandy
    January 1, 1970
    Walter Isaacson has delivered an immensely readable, detailed and thoughtful biography on Leonardo DaVinci. With many pictures and sketches from DaVinci, the reader is really able to experience the richness of DaVinci’s talent as his extraordinary life story is told. And a story this is, as while Isaacson has done a tremendous amount of study from many different sources, this doesn’t read like an academic study. The book is always engaging, employing humour and getting to the heart of DaVinci as Walter Isaacson has delivered an immensely readable, detailed and thoughtful biography on Leonardo DaVinci. With many pictures and sketches from DaVinci, the reader is really able to experience the richness of DaVinci’s talent as his extraordinary life story is told. And a story this is, as while Isaacson has done a tremendous amount of study from many different sources, this doesn’t read like an academic study. The book is always engaging, employing humour and getting to the heart of DaVinci as a person. Highly recommended, Leonardo DaVinci is a great book, well written and beautifully printed on high quality paper which enhances the entire experience.
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  • ♥ Ibrahim ♥
    January 1, 1970
    The reason Leonardo has appealed to me is because I’m immensely charmed by the idea of a Renaissance Man, men who make no distinction between science and art, men who believe that the “infinite works of nature” are woven together in a unity filled with marvelous patterns. That’s why I LOVE Benjamin Franklin too and see him as a role model for my life, as he was a Leonardo of his era, and while he had no formal education,he taught himself to become an imaginative polymath, a scientist, inventor, The reason Leonardo has appealed to me is because I’m immensely charmed by the idea of a Renaissance Man, men who make no distinction between science and art, men who believe that the “infinite works of nature” are woven together in a unity filled with marvelous patterns. That’s why I LOVE Benjamin Franklin too and see him as a role model for my life, as he was a Leonardo of his era, and while he had no formal education,he taught himself to become an imaginative polymath, a scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategist.
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  • Esmerelda Weatherwax
    January 1, 1970
    I love Walter Isaacsons biographies, they are always engaging, never dry, and I learn so much while being thoroughly entertained because it reads more like a novel many times rather than a dry non-fiction feel to it.Leonardo is obviously one of the most world renown artists ever born, but there’s so much I didn’t know about him.What I loved most was learning about his personality, which I knew nothing about. Sometimes when learning about one of histories greats you sort of cringe because they we I love Walter Isaacsons biographies, they are always engaging, never dry, and I learn so much while being thoroughly entertained because it reads more like a novel many times rather than a dry non-fiction feel to it.Leonardo is obviously one of the most world renown artists ever born, but there’s so much I didn’t know about him.What I loved most was learning about his personality, which I knew nothing about. Sometimes when learning about one of histories greats you sort of cringe because they were actually assholes or power hungry or just unpalatable in some way.Leonardo was apparently charming to be around, a warm funny person that most people found engaging and entertaining. He often times impressed the courts or nobles with his antics, drawing things in front of a live audience, using his drawings to tell tales or make points.He was a big animal advocate and was vegetarian for most of his adult life. Sometimes he would go to gatherings or parties and speak poetically about a mother who’s lost her daughter, only to have her throat slit and then eaten. It sounded like a barbarian raided a town, but at the end he would reveal the poem was about a goat or a sheep. He was one of the first to surmise that animals experience pain too, there was a widely held myth that animals didn’t have the same sense of pain that humans do. But, Leonardo theorized correctly that anything that moves would be able to sense pain, in case that movement caused damage.The biography follows Leonardo from birth to death and everything in between. He was born a bastard to a well to do notary which actually wasn’t as big of a deal as you may think. In Florence during his lifetime bastards weren’t uncommon, and they weren’t necessarily shunned out of existence either and were often times embraced and legitimized.Leonardo had no intention of becoming a notary, but his experience growing up as the son of a notary was influential throughout his life – he took fastidious notes on basically everything he observed from bird flight to the size and shapes of rocks to facial expressions. He had volumes and volumes of notebooks and sketches, many of which have been preserved through time and give us amazing glimpses into his thought processes.Leonardo had a really bad habit of not finishing his work, there are thousands of half finished essays, paintings, and designs. He had amazing ideas but often lacked the follow through to make them presentable or functional. But, when he did finish something they almost always became masterpieces.He once worked as a military engineer trying to design weapons of war, and many of them were truly monstrous. Luckily for humanity, his weapons never came to fruition and weren’t used in war.Unfortunately, his design for a perfectly laid out city complete with sewage removal was ignored as well, and had the powers that be paid attention and used his designs, many instances of plague and disease could have been avoided.I did not know going into this that Leonardo was gay and openly gay at that. He was charged twice with sodomy, but thankfully nothing came of that. He wrote many pieces on how he found the idea of copulating with a woman to be abhorrent and had many sketches of his male lovers. One of which caught his eye and held his attention for many years, Salai. Salai showed up as a model for many, many paintings and sketches, and his likeness was used countless times.Overall, this was an amazing biography and I can’t wait to see what Isaacson does next.
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  • Jim
    January 1, 1970
    "Leonardo went from seeking knowledge that could be of practical use and began seeking knowledge for its own sake, out of pure curiosity and joy"A magnificent and fascinating read of the life and times of one of the most brilliant human beings that ever lived. Walter Isaacson's starting point for this biography was not his art masterpieces (The Last Supper, Mona Lisa) but rather his notebooks that he left and which survive to this day. They contain sketches and doodles, mathematics, anatomy, and "Leonardo went from seeking knowledge that could be of practical use and began seeking knowledge for its own sake, out of pure curiosity and joy"A magnificent and fascinating read of the life and times of one of the most brilliant human beings that ever lived. Walter Isaacson's starting point for this biography was not his art masterpieces (The Last Supper, Mona Lisa) but rather his notebooks that he left and which survive to this day. They contain sketches and doodles, mathematics, anatomy, and to do lists. If da Vinci were alive today he would probably diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and be prescribed medication. There was no one subject that could contain his interest or curiosity. Often times he left one project unfinished and moved on to something else.He was a man of science and art and his passions ranged from anatomy, the heart, engineering, flying machines, weaponry, geology, fossils, ... In fact it seemed that there was nothing that did not interest him. He was illegitimate and homosexual but at ease. It is probably fortuitous that he was born out of wedlock otherwise he would have been expected to become a notary like first born legitimate sons in his family stretching back five generations.Children have a natural curiosity and are unafraid to ask questions. "Why is the sky blue?". After a few years that curiosity seems to lessen as do the questions. With da Vinci this never seemed to happen. Thankfully. The world would be poorer without the gifts this genius left us.A lengthy and beautifully illustrated book. It is not a page turner. It should be savored and at times go back and reread parts.
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  • Keep Calm Novel On
    January 1, 1970
    Simply—brilliant.
  • Grumpus
    January 1, 1970
    I don’t have a lot to say about this [edit: coming back after my draft, I see I was mistaken], but in keeping with my New Year’s resolution to put down into words something about each book I read this year, here are my rambling thoughts.First off, I heeded Chrissie’s advice, "To get the most out of the audiobook one should sit by a computer and look at the pictures as one listens." well, partial advice anyway. As much as I love audiobooks, I did not want to have to be in front of the computer to I don’t have a lot to say about this [edit: coming back after my draft, I see I was mistaken], but in keeping with my New Year’s resolution to put down into words something about each book I read this year, here are my rambling thoughts.First off, I heeded Chrissie’s advice, "To get the most out of the audiobook one should sit by a computer and look at the pictures as one listens." well, partial advice anyway. As much as I love audiobooks, I did not want to have to be in front of the computer to view the pictures. So, I read the hardcover edition. The first thing I noticed was that it was the heaviest 600-page book I’ve ever seen. This is because the pages are of a fine, heavy, glossy stock. This was a wonderful decision by someone (I don’t know if it was the publisher or Isaacson himself) as it truly makes the artwork and drawings that are featured liberally throughout pop in beautiful color as each is discussed.It was a thorough biography of Leonardo’s life which is what I assume the author intended, but it didn’t rise to the level of “Wow” for me and I am struggling as to understand why. The thing that sticks most with me is Isaacson’s belief that if Leonardo where not a bastard, he would likely have been forced to follow in the family business of being a notary like his father and grandfather. Being illegitimate, he was thankfully freer to follow his own path—and what a path—what a polymath!I got the impression that painting was not his true love. His first love, probably, but not his true love. He seemed to prefer engineering and science, especially anatomy. He would dissect bodies and draw what he saw until he could no longer stand the smell. I can’t imagine.Of his personality, I learned that he was brilliant (obviously), a keen observer, flamboyant, a procrastinator, and a perfectionist. Sometimes he would stare a painting for hours and then make only a few brush strokes and call it a day. It was his observational skills that helped him understand perspective and that perspective that helped bring his paintings to life--well, also dissecting bodies to understand musculature. When people say you need to live life to its fullest, look to Leonardo. He certainly did not waste a day.
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  • Joe
    January 1, 1970
    Much of my review agrees with that stated by Netta in her review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), though she writes it much more eloquently.Walter Isaacson presents the biography of Leonardo da Vinci, whose every action is so divine, that, surpassing all other men, it makes itself clearly known as a thing bestowed by God (as it is), and not acquired by human art. (Vasari, LIFE OF LEONARDO DA VINCI)Where, I believe, Isaacson struggles in this book is thinking that one can just record Much of my review agrees with that stated by Netta in her review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), though she writes it much more eloquently.Walter Isaacson presents the biography of Leonardo da Vinci, whose every action is so divine, that, surpassing all other men, it makes itself clearly known as a thing bestowed by God (as it is), and not acquired by human art. (Vasari, LIFE OF LEONARDO DA VINCI)Where, I believe, Isaacson struggles in this book is thinking that one can just record the life of Leonardo using the classical structure of a biography. Although Isaacson tries to package particular events into a 'named' chapter, he does not give the reader the necessary information to formulate Leonardo da Vinci into who he was: a man who was created through the society in which he lived. So much of Leonardo da Vinci is linked to what was happening. By providing a small passage, for instance, saying something on the lines of 'Florence was invaded and held by France' dilutes what was happening, and the effects that it had on the populace, and Leonardo. Furthermore, Isaacson's descriptions of artwork is lackluster. He does not have the experience nor the knowledge of context. Perhaps Isaacson could benefit from Leonardo da Vinci's understanding that all things are connected, and nothing is singular in its happening?In my opinion, no biography of Leonardo will be sufficient until someone resolves to integrate the character of Leonardo da Vinci with the time in which he lived in, understanding and exploring the society of 15th/16th Century Italy, as well as losing the notion of 'genius' in which Leonardo is explicitly linked to throughout this biography and others. Furthermore, one should dissolve the idea of how to make Leonardo useful in the 21st century. This view inevitably leads to viewing Leonardo as a blueprint, rather than a living, breathing, feeling, man that he was.I should probably state some things I liked: * Isaacson expounds the idea that by not being legitimised, Leonardo was free from following his father's career as a notary.* Isaacson's descriptions of Leonardo's mechanical drawings are pleasant, and include images showing how Leonardo incorporated multi-layered views.
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  • Tony
    January 1, 1970
    LEONARDO DA VINCI. (2017). Walter Isaacson. ****1/2.The first thing I’d like to share is that you needn’t be afraid of the size of this book. It runs to 525 pages, plus notes and index. With my experience of reading other Isaacon’s books (“Ben Franklin,” and “Einstein”) I know his skill with the written word. He has the ability to capture the reader’s attention in such a way that the pages whizz past without your knowing it. This was especially true with this book because of the inclusion of so LEONARDO DA VINCI. (2017). Walter Isaacson. ****1/2.The first thing I’d like to share is that you needn’t be afraid of the size of this book. It runs to 525 pages, plus notes and index. With my experience of reading other Isaacon’s books (“Ben Franklin,” and “Einstein”) I know his skill with the written word. He has the ability to capture the reader’s attention in such a way that the pages whizz past without your knowing it. This was especially true with this book because of the inclusion of so many illustrations of art works and reproductions from Leonardo’s notebooks. His approach to telling us about this great artist was to – in a sense – to use his own words. Leonardo early on developed the habit of keeping notebooks with him; jotting down thoughts and questions, and doodling illustrations for his many ideas. What a great chronicle to follow his life. That’s what Isaacson did. What we are treated to in a rather intimate examination of those notebooks that lets us follow the artist in a chronological manner. Of course, if background information was needed, then Isaacson jumped in with that. The result was a thorough and fascinating look at the artists: his thoughts and his works. This has got to be the best biography yet to be written about one of the world’s best artists.
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  • Joseph Williams
    January 1, 1970
    I have read two of Isaacson's previous biographies (Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein). I particularly liked the Steve Jobs biography since the author was able to effectively get under his subject's skin due to his unique access to the subject. In the case of Leonardo da Vinci, Isaacson was unsuccessful in my opinon of bringing Da Vinci to life probably due to a lack of primary source material on the subject. That is always the bugbear of writing biographies of subjects from so long ago. In this bo I have read two of Isaacson's previous biographies (Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein). I particularly liked the Steve Jobs biography since the author was able to effectively get under his subject's skin due to his unique access to the subject. In the case of Leonardo da Vinci, Isaacson was unsuccessful in my opinon of bringing Da Vinci to life probably due to a lack of primary source material on the subject. That is always the bugbear of writing biographies of subjects from so long ago. In this book, Isaacson seems to try to compensate for the lack of materials by writing an art history book which is so focused on the artist's work that the story of the man himself (of what little can be known) is obscured by distracting and overly glowing details -- that is, it felt extremely padded. Noting the other reviews of this book placed on GoodReads, I think what is happening is that Isaacson is so well-respected (deservedly so) that readers are biased in his favor based on his previous works and cannot look at the current work in a balanced way. I rated it two stars since I didn't, on the whole, dislike the book and there are interesting parts to it, but it definitely does not stand up to his prior works.
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  • Kimba Tichenor
    January 1, 1970
    This book simply did not hold my interest, as there is too much idolatry and not enough analysis. Words, such as "wondrous," "brilliant", and "ingenious" should be used sparingly, even when discussing Leonardo da Vinci. Otherwise when something truly is wondrous, the reader will no longer care or believe.
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  • Jeanette
    January 1, 1970
    Marvelous. This life was magnificent beyond any telling for his unique and kind (but often rascally) genius of such multiple skills and talents of mind set into a time that was both cruel and beautiful. It's beyond my ability to describe Leonardo's scope. But the only star loss for the rating was in the weight and stiffness of the pages in this book. It was nearly impossible to hold and many of the photo plates/ pages so rigid I could not lay them flat enough to give their observation justice. I Marvelous. This life was magnificent beyond any telling for his unique and kind (but often rascally) genius of such multiple skills and talents of mind set into a time that was both cruel and beautiful. It's beyond my ability to describe Leonardo's scope. But the only star loss for the rating was in the weight and stiffness of the pages in this book. It was nearly impossible to hold and many of the photo plates/ pages so rigid I could not lay them flat enough to give their observation justice. I would guess the quality of the materials to be the highest but this is so long with so much of the visual- that at times it was a detriment. The information and writing about da Vinci by Isaacson was 5 star. And I do disagree with some of the other reviewers concerning how Leonardo rather "hid" and didn't widely market all his belief or non-belief or particulars of anatomy information etc. He could not do so in the sense of how that kind of genius would market himself today ( a la a Stephen Hawking kind of celebrity presence). Because he would not have had access and/or safety to do and follow his momentary or long term inclinations to building or drawing or whatever. He would have been deemed a heretic or worse. With horrific consequence for this era and location. And he always had to placate those who hired him as well. Even if it wasn't always on every direction of time limits or exact desired "boss" order, there had to be some connections of allegiance.What was the most remarkable WAS that he also remained "of his time" in nearly all, regardless of which practical applications or depth he plummeted. Can you imagine those 3 or 4 winter months when he was in such "trapped" close quarters in that tiny town behind 15 foot wide walls with both C. Borgia and Niccolo Machiavelli! All "stuck" there. He had to be a wizard too at dinner talk wit plus within diplomatic asides to get advantage for his project or current art or inquiry. Beyond all his superb scientific detail minutia discovered over decades- that is a rare, rare skill. And he was not quiet or a minimal talker either and yet had to stay "out" of all the "cracks".Isaacson gave you the full picture of that particular skill and his personality too.
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  • Farhana
    January 1, 1970
    6 out of 5 :Dগত বছর ওয়ালটার আইজযাকসনের লেখা ২টা বায়োগরাফি পড়েছিলাম। I believe he is one of the finest biographers of our time with uncompromising impenetrable passion for his books. গত বছর থেকেই ওঁর লেখা নতুন এই বায়োগরাফিটা বের হবার অপেকষায় ছিলাম। অবশেষে ...Once again he has chosen such a marvellous personality of incredible genius for his book - Leonardo da Vinci. বইটা পড়ে রিয়যাকশনঃ একটা মানুষ এত কিছু পারে কীভাবে! মূলত লিওনারদোর লেখা নোটবুক গুলোর উপর ভিততি করে ওয়ালটার তাঁর এই বইটিকে সাজিয়েছেন ৩ 6 out of 5 :Dগত বছর ওয়াল্টার আইজ্যাকসনের লেখা ২টা বায়োগ্রাফি পড়েছিলাম। I believe he is one of the finest biographers of our time with uncompromising impenetrable passion for his books. গত বছর থেকেই ওঁর লেখা নতুন এই বায়োগ্রাফিটা বের হবার অপেক্ষায় ছিলাম। অবশেষে ...Once again he has chosen such a marvellous personality of incredible genius for his book - Leonardo da Vinci. বইটা পড়ে রিয়্যাকশনঃ একটা মানুষ এত কিছু পারে কীভাবে! মূলত লিওনার্দোর লেখা নোটবুক গুলোর উপর ভিত্তি করে ওয়াল্টার তাঁর এই বইটিকে সাজিয়েছেন ৩৩টি চ্যাপ্টারে। প্রতিটি চ্যাপ্টার খুবই ইনফরমেটিভ, well planned.বইটাতে এত বেশি ইনফরমেশন, আমার মনে হয় আমি রিভিউ লিখতে গিয়ে একটু বেশ অগোছালো করে ফেলব। আসলে কোনটা ছেড়ে কোনটা লিখব। একটা লিখতে গিয়ে মাঝে দিয়ে লিওনার্দোর আরেক গুণের কথা মনে পড়ছে, ঐটা লিখতে গিয়ে আরেকটা, এরকম। একেকটি চ্যাপ্টারে লিওনার্দোর একেকটি বিশেষ দিক, শিল্পকর্ম এবং কাজ নিয়ে আলোকপাত করা হয়েছে, আর অবধারিতভাবেই মোনালিসা-র জন্য ছিল একটি পূর্ণ চ্যাপ্টার। লিওনার্দোর নোটবুক এন্ট্রি্র কিছু টু-ডু লিস্টদিয়ে শুরু হয়েছে বইটি। যেমন, হাঁসের পায়ের পাতা কীরকম দেখতে, কীভাবে কাঠঠোকরার জিহ্বা কাজ করে , কিভাবে কুমীরের চোয়াল কাজ করে, ইত্যাদি। এমন না যে এগুলো তাঁর কাজের জন্য তাঁর দরকার ছিল কিন্তু এই মানুষটাকী অসম্ভব জানার আগ্রহ নিয়ে জন্মেছেন তারই উদাহরণ যেন নিজের জন্য লেখা এই টু ডু লিস্ট টি।Though Leonardo is mainly recognised for his paintings, he was a man of arts, science & engineering. Ludovico Sfroja এর কোর্টে লিওনার্দো যখন চাকরির জন্য আবেদন করে তাঁর resume/ cover letter পাঠান, সে চিঠিতে মূলত তাঁর ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং স্কিলের কথাই তিনি উল্লেখ করেছেন। একটিবারের জন্যেও তিনি যে শিল্পী তাঁর মেনশন করেন নি। এমন কি পরবর্তীতে তিনি তাঁর scientific inquiry & engineering projects গুলো নিয়ে এতই নিমগ্ন থাকতেন যে পেইন্টিং ব্রাশ নিয়ে বসে ছবি আঁকার কাজটা তাঁর কাছে তখন রীতিমত অসহ্য ঠেকত।Isaacson didn't mention Leonardo's genius as god-gifted rather he termed it as self-acquired. Leonardo was a self-taught person and he duly deserved the credit for his genius. যেমন, লিওনার্দো গণিতের অনেক ব্যাপারই ঠিকমত বুঝতেন না কিন্তু গাণিতিক সমস্যাগুলো তিনি সবসময় ছবি এঁকে বা জিওমেট্রিক ফিগার দিয়ে এঁকে চিন্তা করে সলভ করবার ট্রাই করতেন। যেমন, তিনি অনেকদিন রুলার আর কম্পাস ব্যবহার করে ক্ষেত্রফল অপরিবর্তিত রেখে বৃত্তকে স্কয়ার করার ট্রাই করছিলেন। এছাড়া ৬৭ বছর বয়সেও তাঁর নোটবুকে দেখা গেছে তিনি বিভিন্ন মাপের সমকোণী ত্রিভুজ এঁকে কিভাবে ক্ষেত্রফল অপরিবর্তিত রেখে বিভিন্ন বাহু-দৈর্ঘ্যের সমকোণী ত্রিভুজে কনভার্ট করা যায় সে চেষ্টা করছিলেন। যেটা তিনি শেষ করতে পারেন নি। এই প্রবলেমের নিচে তিনি তাঁর নোটবুকের শেষ লাইন লিখে গেছেন " the soup is getting cold." এই ঘটনাটা মনে করিয়ে দেয় যেভাবে আইনস্টাইন তাঁর জীবনের শেষ সময়ে হসপিটালে ইউনিফাইড ফিল্ড থিওরি প্রবলেমের সলভ করবার জন্য ক্যালকুলেশন করবার চেষ্টা করছিলেন।লিওনার্দোর পেইন্টিং স্কিলের কথা নিয়ে বলতে গেলে, আগে পেইন্টিং সম্পর্কে আমার ধারণা ছিল জিনিস গুলো এবস্ট্রাক্ট হবে, হয়ত রিয়্যালিটির কিছু এসপেক্ট (যেমন, শ্যাডো, ডিস্ট্যান্ট অবজেক্ট কে ছোট দেখানো এইসব পারস্পেক্টিভ ব্যপারগুলো) কন্টেইন করতে পারে কিন্তু ওভারঅল রিয়্যাল লাইফ ডেপিকশন হবে না। কিন্তু লিওনার্দোর প্রতিটা পেইন্টিং এর এনালাইসিস পড়ে বুঝলাম এই মানুষ টা পেইন্ট করার সময়ও কী পরিমাণ scientific accuracy maintain করত। He was deeply immersed in the scientific studies of lighting, shadows, optics, perspective, reflection & refraction of lights on curved surfaces. And he duly incorporated his acute observations and findings in his paintings. এমন কি একটা পেইন্টিং এ তিনি যে rocks & herbs গুলো এঁকেছিলেন সেগুলোও geographically & geologically correct. এমনকি তাঁর অবসেশন এবং curiosity এমন পর্যায়ে পৌঁছেছিল যে তিনি নিজের হাতে মর্গে এবং হাসপাতালে corps dissect করে শরীরের বিভিন্ন অঙ্গ প্রত্যঙ্গের muscles, veins এগুলো স্টাডি করেছিলেন। প্রতিটা organs, muscles, veins কীভাবে কাজ করে বিভিন্ন motions create করে সেটা তিনি স্বার্থক ভাবে তাঁর বিভিন্ন পেইন্টিং এবং স্কেচে বারেবারে দেখিয়েছেন। His paintings were a successful narrative of motions & emotions. He was a man of perfectionism. তাঁর বিভিন্ন পেইন্টিং এবং কমিশনও ইনকমপ্লিট থাকার কারণ হয়ত তাঁর এই পারফেকশনিস্ট অবসেশন .অ্যানাটমিক্যাল স্টাডি, স্কেচ, ডেন্টিস্ট্রি, মেডিক্যাল সাইন্স, মেকানিক্যাল ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং, ফ্লুইড ডাইনামিক্স, ফ্লাইট অফ বার্ডস, ফ্লাইং ডাইনামিক্স, মিলিটারি ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং, আরবান প্ল্যানিং, আর্কিটেকচার, জিওলজি , স্কাল্পচার , সবকিছুতে তাঁর এত আবিষ্কার। মিলিটারি ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং এবং মেকানিক্যাল ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং এ তাঁর আবিষ্কারের মূল প্রেরণা হল তাঁর অসম্ভব দারুণ ইমাজিনেশন ক্যাপাবিলিটি। তাঁর অনেক ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং প্ল্যানিং যদিও তাঁর এক্সট্রিম ইমাজিনেশন এবং ফ্যান্টাসির কারণে বাস্তবায়িত হওয়া সম্ভবপর হয় নি, তারপরেও অনেক জিনিসই কয়েক শতাব্দী পর প্র্যাক্টিক্যালি ইমপ্লিমেন্টেশন করা হয়েছে। তিনি ছিলেন তাঁর সময়ের থেকে অনেক আগে। আর সবচেয়ে বড় কথা তিনি তাঁর আবিষ্কারের বেশিরভাগ জিনিসই নোটবুকে রেখে দিয়েছেন, পাবলিশের কথা ভাবলেও কখনও পাবলিশ করেন নি এবং কারো সাথে তাঁর ফাইন্ডিংস শেয়ারও করেন নি। ফলে অনেক জিনিস কে কয়েক শতাব্দী অপেক্ষা করতে হয়েছে অন্য কারো হাতে রিডিস্কভার হওয়ার জন্য। আইজ্যাকসনের এই বায়োগ্রাফিতে লিওনার্দোর খুবেকটা সমালোচনা নেই। তাঁর স্টিভ জবসের বায়োগ্রাফিতে যেমন জবসের ক্রিসান বেনান এবং লিসার প্রতি তাঁর আচরণ অথবা আইনস্টাইনের তাঁর প্রথম স্ত্রী মিলেভা মারভির প্রতি তাঁরআচরণের সমালোচনা ছিল এ বইতে তেমন কিছু নেই। তার কারণ মূলত লিওনার্দোর হোমোসেক্সুয়ালিটি। রোম্যান্টিক্যালি নারীবিহীন জীবন হবার কারণে হয়ত খুবেকটা বিতর্কের অবকাশ ছিল না তাঁর জীবনে। এমনিতে তাঁকে তাঁর সময়ের কোন যুদ্ধ বিগ্রহ বা রাজনীতিতে অংশগ্রহণ করতে দেখা যায় না কিন্তু বিভিন্ন সময়ে বিভিন্ন শ্ত্রুবাহিনীর আক্রমণ থেকে তাঁর স্টূডিও সমসময় রক্ষা পেয়েছে। এছাড়া তিনি সবসময়ই শক্তিশালী ক্ষমতাবান কোন প্যাট্রন কে পাবার জন্য চেষ্টা করেছেন যদিও তিনি যুদ্ধ কে beastly affair বলে আখ্যা দিয়েছেন তাঁর নোটবইতে । এর কারণ হিসেবে বলা হয়েছে লিওনার্দোর কোন ফাদার ফিগার পাবার প্রতি আকাঙ্ক্ষা যেহেতু তিনি তাঁর বাবার অবৈধ সন্তান ছিলেন এবং তাঁর বাবা কখনই তাঁকে legitimize করেন নি বা উইলে তাঁর জন্য কোন সম্পত্তিও রেখে যান নি। বইতে লিওনার্দোর কাজের তুলনায় তাঁর ব্যক্তিগত জীবন নিয়ে একটু কমই আলোচনা করা হয়েছে। সব মিলিয়ে আরেকটা চমৎকার বায়োগ্রাফি ওয়াল্টার আইজ্যাকসনের থেকে। জানি না আর কোন নতুন কাজ পাবো কিনা তাঁর থেকে , তবে আশা করতে তো দোষ নেই। O:)
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  • Peter Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    A very accessible and lavishly illustrated biography of Leonardo. This is the only bio I have read directly on Leonardo but Isaacson does a good job of putting Leonardo's life in a fairly good context of his times. Well done. The artistic illustrations are worth the purchase of this book alone.
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  • Rahul Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    The Greatness of this man lies in his quirkiness!!;
  • Carolyn
    January 1, 1970
    This book is masterfully written, lavishly illustrated, and a prime example of intensive research. I had read The author’s biography of Steve Jobs, and also the Innovators which showed how collaboration through the years has brought us to the present digital era. I knew some of Leonardo’s workbooks, journals, sketches and finished paintings were lost to history, but was amazed at how much still remains after more than 500 years. The author states that he was able to find a greater percentage of This book is masterfully written, lavishly illustrated, and a prime example of intensive research. I had read The author’s biography of Steve Jobs, and also the Innovators which showed how collaboration through the years has brought us to the present digital era. I knew some of Leonardo’s workbooks, journals, sketches and finished paintings were lost to history, but was amazed at how much still remains after more than 500 years. The author states that he was able to find a greater percentage of Leonardo’s thoughts and work than he was able to find when researching material on Steve Jobs while writing that biography. I feel this book should be of great interest to art historians, people who authenticate art work, students of Renaissance history, and anyone interested in what constitutes a true genius. I downloaded the Kindle version, but read it on my iPad app. It is essential to see the art work in colour, and to enlarge the paintings, and also to enlarge the black and white sketches from the notebooks which include such subjects as mechanics, engineering, geometry, botany, geology, anatomical drawings including dissections of the human body and some animals, optics, light, stage props for theatre, study of flight of birds and the possibility of machines to allow man to fly, and some very peculiar notes as reminders to himself. These notes were mainly in mirror writing. There was an insatiable curiosity about everything, and it seems that most was to satisfy his own questions, and some knowledge was to enhance his paintings regarding human and animal form,light and shadows and perspective. He did some collaboration in paintings and architecture, and laid out some plans for military strategy and weapons, but a lot was unfinished due to his distractibility, lack of diligence or interest, or the constant striving for perfection. He did not publish any of his work, and some of his theories and conclusions had to be rediscovered many years later. This was particularly unfortunate in his work on the dissections of humans, where he drew intricate illustrations on every part of the human bones, muscles, circulatory system rather than depending on old medical writings which was the method at the time. Leonardo had a lot of things working against him. He was heretical, illegitimate, gay, no formal education. He disappointed patrons and sponsors by leaving projects unfinished and frequently did not get paid for the work. His genius combined science and art and curiosity, and he was popular and much sought after by famous people in many diverse fields, such as art, mechanical engineering, architecture, military, theatre, who recognized his unique mental powers. I was especially interested in the manner the author described each illustration, and the way he analyzed each art work or scientific drawing. I had difficulty with the geometric and mechanical drawings, but was enthralled by the genius involved.
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  • allie (rosynovels)
    January 1, 1970
    I recently took a course which focused on biography and really enjoyed the texts that had been selected; I wanted to continue reading biographies and Leonardo Da Vinci seemed like a fascinating subject.I still think Leonardo is most likely a fascinating subject, but this book is long and very little of it explores his personal life. About the first two hundred pages are almost entirely art analysis, and it gets quite dry quite quickly in my opinion. My experience with biography is limited, and I I recently took a course which focused on biography and really enjoyed the texts that had been selected; I wanted to continue reading biographies and Leonardo Da Vinci seemed like a fascinating subject.I still think Leonardo is most likely a fascinating subject, but this book is long and very little of it explores his personal life. About the first two hundred pages are almost entirely art analysis, and it gets quite dry quite quickly in my opinion. My experience with biography is limited, and I’ve been lucky enough before this book to read ones which truly brought their subjects to life.It seems to be a very thoroughly researched book, so possibly the answer is that too much time has passed, and not enough personal information exists anymore.If you are an art lover interested in never-before seen full color prints of Leonardo Da Vinci’s work then I would say go for it, but if you were hoping to get to know the man himself I don’t think this is the book you are looking for.
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