Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Leonardo da Vinci

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 best...

Title:Leonardo da Vinci
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Edition Language:English

Leonardo da Vinci Reviews

  • Chrissie

    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.

    ; 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

    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.

    ; 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

    stating

    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.

    and the

    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.

    . 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

    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,

    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.

  • Linda

    An extensively-researched examination of Leonardo’s life, including both his engineering feats and artistic accomplishments. As Isaacson notes in his conclusion, “What made Leonardo a genius…was creativity, the ability to apply imagination to intellect.”

  • Netta

    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

    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

    . 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

    , 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

    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.

  • Janet

    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 long

    This 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 long

    This 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.

  • Carolyn

    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.

  • Mohamed Omran

    والتر ايزاكسون

    هو افضل كاتب سير ذاتيه

    يجعلك تغوص في اعماق المبدعين والمشاهير لاانسي اول قراءه عن ستيف جوبز عبقري ابل

    وبنجامين فرانكلين. اينشتاين

    والتر يجمع مابين السير الذاتيه واسلوب الحكي الممنهج التي تتسارع فيه الرغبه داخلك لتعرف وتتعلم كيف اصبح دافنشي كذلك

    مع التركيز علي الجانب الاجتماعي والنشأه والمتغيرات الاجتماعيه والسياسيه

    في الاخير اذا اردت ان تعرف كيف اصبح العظماء. والمبدعين

    تعالي الي عالم والتر. ايزاكسون

  • Diana Long

    Excellent in depth look at the life and times of one of the most brilliant human beings that graced the earth. I thought the author did an amazing biography and felt it was thoroughly researched and touched on so many areas of who he was and why he behaved as he did. Not leaving much in actual works of art, he left us his manuscripts and astounded as with his brilliant and curious mind. The many examples of his work and notes with explanations helped immensely in understanding his work. Highly

    Excellent in depth look at the life and times of one of the most brilliant human beings that graced the earth. I thought the author did an amazing biography and felt it was thoroughly researched and touched on so many areas of who he was and why he behaved as he did. Not leaving much in actual works of art, he left us his manuscripts and astounded as with his brilliant and curious mind. The many examples of his work and notes with explanations helped immensely in understanding his work. Highly recommend to those who like to be enlightened.

  • Lou

    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 scribbles

    last supper

    mona lisa

    vitruvius man

    saint jerome in the wilderness

    renaissance man

    innovation

    imagination

    combining observation with fantasy

    will

    ambition

    fevered

    manic

    lefthanded

    born Tuscan village of Vinci

    illegitimate

    gay

    vegetarian

    genius

    science

    engineering

    arts

    technology

    anatomy

    fossils

    birds

    horses

    the heart

    flying machines

    optics

    botany

    geology

    water flows

    weaponry

    work with Borgia and Machiavelli

    Review with video interview @

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    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…

    . 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?

    <

    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

    and

    , but I am enamored with

    , 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:

    and

    , 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.

    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.

    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.

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  • Dan Graser

    Walter Isaacson is one of the finest biographers of our time - everyone knows that - but in this latest offering he has outdone himself. It takes a lot of work and creativity to make a biography of one of the most discussed figures in history seem fresh and revelatory but that is precisely what this 600-page tome accomplishes. Likely you already know much of the work discussed here, however Isaacson provides so much in the way of primary source material from Leonardo da Vinci's sketches and note

    Walter Isaacson is one of the finest biographers of our time - everyone knows that - but in this latest offering he has outdone himself. It takes a lot of work and creativity to make a biography of one of the most discussed figures in history seem fresh and revelatory but that is precisely what this 600-page tome accomplishes. Likely you already know much of the work discussed here, however Isaacson provides so much in the way of primary source material from Leonardo da Vinci's sketches and notebooks that several of these creations seem so much more intricate and genuinely genius as a result. Several of the main themes of this iconic figure that are highlighted in particular by Isaacson here include:

    -An undying, childlike curiosity about the natural world that never waned.

    -Intense, thorough study of the craft of painting and the evolution of his skill overtaking that of Verocchio.

    -Intersections of Leonardo da Vinci's unique personality with relationships among friends, lovers, and patrons.

    -Continuous, freely changing identity between painter, engineer, scientist, weaponry designer, etc..

    -Scientific knowledge leading to artistic innovation from understanding the function of light in a painting to dissecting corpses to understand the underlying muscular formations of various appendages.

    Perhaps the overriding success of this volume is Isaacson's refusal to merely engage in anecdotal hagiolatry as many have before him when discussing this subject. While acknowledging the obvious genius of this figure, he deftly crafts his tale to show just how this genius was attained and sustained by this truly singular figure.

    This beautiful, high quality volume, packed with full color depictions of Leonardo da Vinci's works and notebooks should not be missed by anyone with any sort of intellectual curiosity. Masterful and eminently readable.

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