da Vinci – the name alone evokes images of an artistic virtuoso, the
Renaissance man, the mind behind the Mona
Lisa. Though known best as an artist, his work extended beyond paintings
into a myriad of disciplines, with notebook entries documenting his studies of
optics, bird flight, comparative anatomy, hydraulics, and countless others. And
yet what has been obscured by the shadow cast by his prolific career are the
details of how a young man from a town called Vinci became Leonardo da Vinci.
What did he do every day? What did he eat? Who were his friends? Did he even
have any? We tend to immortalize Leonardo as a god, and yet he was human after
all, not unlike the rest of us. This realization should encourage us to study
one of history’s most celebrated humans, and see if we ourselves might be able unlock
our own inner genius.
Isaacson aids us in this study with his thoroughly researched biography of
Leonardo da Vinci. He adds this to his growing portfolio of biographies of
history’s great minds, including Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve
Jobs. In this most recent biography, Isaacson takes us through the life and
times of Leonardo, highlighting milestones of his career, while also
underscoring some of the seemingly trivial habits that were signatures of
Leonardo’s personality and worldview.
illegitimacy and openly gay, Leonardo was no stranger to defying convention. In
fact, many of his grandest discoveries were a result of his willingness to
challenge commonly accepted wisdom. Yet his greatest asset was his relentless
curiosity and unquenchable thirst for knowledge, a recurring theme of
Isaacson’s biography and of Leonardo’s life. Intertwined with this curiosity
was his tendency to draw connections across disciplines, blurring the lines
between art and science. Everything that Leonardo produced – whether his sketches
of war machines, his treatises on anatomy, or his timeless portraits – was a
manifestation of his desire for unifying knowledge.
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