Leonardo da Vinci

Walter Isaacson

Book - 2017

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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York : Simon & Schuster 2017.
Edition
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xii, 599 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 533-570) and index.
ISBN
9781501139154
1501139150
Main Author
Walter Isaacson (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Isaacson's writings of late have been concerned with genius: biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. Now he takes on perhaps the ultimate genius, a man whose interest in art and science intertwined in spectacular ways. Putting together the life of Leonardo da Vinci (despite his own numerous entries in his famous notebooks) seems to have been a more complicated task for Isaacson than was presenting his previous subjects (and, of course, he had the advantage of numerous personal interviews with Jobs). On the surface, the book doesn't seem to reveal much more about the man personally—illegitimate, gay, sometimes unfocused—than does a solid encyclopedia entry. Ah, but when Isaacson discusses da Vinci's artistic and scientific endeavors, all manner of fascinating connections begin to emerge. With the strong advantage of having four-color images of Leonardo's work placed throughout his text, Isaacson can both show and tell, writing with assurance about the different influences on the artist's works, where his passions lay and overlapped. Leonardo's fascination with anatomical structure informed his paintings; his profound interest in math and the transformation of shapes influenced his inventions. His delight in staging theatricals led to dramas that offered interpretations of his allegorical art and drawings. Encompassing in its coverage, robust in its artistic explanations, yet written in a smart, conversational tone, this is both a solid introduction to the man and a sweeping saga of his genius. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Who is not familiar with the versatile genius Leonardo da Vinci? He was an artist, scientist, innovator, and bold thinker, an icon on whom volumes have been written. But here comes a new biography by a biographer par excellence. Isaacson (Tulane Univ.) presents a wealth of fascinating material on the hero with superb clarity and erudition. We read about this unschooled scholar exploring optics and anatomy, fantasizing about technologies to be actualized centuries later, painting masterpieces; we consider his genius as a military engineer and architect. There is reference to the challenges Leonardo faced as a gay man (though in Florence's art world da Vinci was not alone). We read of his Vitruvian Man and that of Giacomo Andreas, about the range of the artist's attire, and much more of significant and trivial interest. There are thoughtful comments on the master's paintings and details on his stay with François I of France. The inclusion of many color reproductions adds considerably to the book's charm, besides making one feel that the price is a bargain. Leonardo's immense accomplishments jolt us to the recognition of what the human spirit is capable of. A must-read for all educated people and for those seeking to expand their education. Summing Up: Essential. All readers.--V. V. Raman, emeritus, Rochester Institute of TechnologyVaradaraja V. Ramanemeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology Varadaraja V. Raman Choice Reviews 55:10 June 2018 Copyright 2018 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

What do Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin have in common with Leonardo da Vinci? Isaacson, a best-selling, always-on-the-book-pages biographer, takes on the master artist/inventor/genius-for-all-seasons by drawing on recent revelations about his life and work and studying his voluminous notebooks. Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Acclaimed biographer Isaacson (Steve Jobs; The Innovators) delves into the 15th and 16th centuries to examine the insatiable energy of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). Primarily relying on da Vinci's notebooks (more than 7,200 pages) for his research, as they help to understand da Vinci as a person, the author argues early and often that his subject was not the most brilliant man who ever lived, simply the most curious one. For example, in his journals, da Vinci reminds himself to "describe the tongue of the woodpecker." The illegitimate son of a wealthy notary in Vinci, a town outside Florence, Italy, da Vinci had a fascination with science and art from a young age. This melding of subjects was a main component of Renaissance life. This book examines da Vinci's birth, young adulthood, sexuality, works (e.g., The Last Supper, The Mona Lisa), and contemporaries such as Michelangelo and Cesare Borgia (on whom Machiavelli's The Prince was based). Lastly, Isaacson explores the polymath's enduring impact. The time line, illustrations, notes, and index help to make this work a great reference tool. VERDICT Fans of Isaacson's previous epic works, the Renaissance, and da Vinci will find this a must-read biography.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Praising the subject of this illuminating biography as "history's most creative genius," Isaacson (The Innovators) uses observations and insights in the 7,200 extant pages of notes Leonardo da Vinci left behind as interpretive touchstones for assessing the artist's life and work. The key to da Vinci's genius as an innovator, as Isaacson presents it, was his "ability to make connections across disciplines—arts and sciences, humanities, and technology" coupled with "an imagination so excitable that it flirted with the edges of fantasy." Proceeding chronologically through the artist's life—from his apprenticeship at age 14 in Florence under Andrea del Verrochio to his later years in the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan and his death in France in 1519—Isaacson shows how da Vinci's inquisitiveness set him apart from his contemporaries but frequently distracted him from completing commissions or projects. The author portrays da Vinci's minor works and major works such as Vitruvian Man and The Last Supper as steps toward his execution of Mona Lisa, "a quest to portray the complexities of human emotion" that represents "the culmination of a life spent perfecting an ability to stand at the intersection of art and nature." Isaacson's scholarship is impressive—he cites not only primary sources but secondary materials by art critics, essayists, and da Vinci's other biographers. This is a monumental tribute to a titanic figure. Color illus. (Oct.) Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The best-selling author of Benjamin Franklin draws on da Vinci's remarkable notebooks as well as new discoveries about his life and work in a narrative portrait that connects the master's art to his science, demonstrating how da Vinci's genius was based on the skills and qualities of everyday people, from curiosity and observation to imagination and fantasy.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Draws on da Vinci's notebooks as well as new discoveries about his life and work in a narrative portrait that connects the master's art to his science, demonstrating how da Vinci's genius was based on ordinary qualities, including curiosity and imagination.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

"He was history's most creative genius. What secrets can he teach us? 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"--

Review by Publisher Summary 4

The #1 New York Times bestseller'A powerful story of an exhilarating mind and life...a study in creativity: how to define it, how to achieve it.' 'The New Yorker'Vigorous, insightful.' 'The Washington Post'A masterpiece.' 'San Francisco Chronicle'Luminous.' 'The Daily BeastHe was history's most creative genius. What secrets can he teach us? 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.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

The #1 New York Times bestseller from Walter Isaacson brings Leonardo da Vinci to life in this exciting new biography that is “a study in creativity: how to define it, how to achieve it…Most important, it is a powerful story of an exhilarating mind and life” (The New Yorker).Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson “deftly reveals an intimate Leonardo” (San Francisco Chronicle) in 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. With a passion that sometimes became obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. He explored the math of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea, and produced illusions of changing perspectives in The Last Supper. 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.In the “luminous” (Daily Beast) Leonardo da Vinci, Isaacson describes how 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 to be imaginative and, like talented rebels in any era, to think different. Here, da Vinci “comes to life in all his remarkable brilliance and oddity in Walter Isaacson’s ambitious new biography…a vigorous, insightful portrait” (The Washington Post).