Leonardo da Vinci
By Walter Isaacson
Published in October 2017
Thibault’s Score: 5/5
I enjoy reading about geniuses. I’ve read far too many biographies of evil political people like Caterina Sforza during my studies of the Renaissance. Constantly reading about evil people doing evil things starts to wear at one’s soul - especially because they did not build the modern world.
After reading this book, I am thoroughly convinced that Leonardo da Vinci truly is one of the world’s greatest ever geniuses. His ability to observe the most minute details - IE the flapping of the dragonfly’s wings - then draw and represent them is fascinating. He also thought scientifically. He rejected accepted wisdom from the church, government, or so-called “experts,” instead substituting their teachings with his personal observations. Somewhat wonderfully, or perhaps somewhat obnoxiously, he rarely finished what he started.
The writing style of this biography is perfect. Walter Isaacson is a specialist in writing the biographies of geniuses - he previously covered Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. As a result, he avoids the pedantry of academia or the hypersensuality of fiction writers. He has this plain, easily-understandable, and energetic style that makes sure that you are never bored. I might go as far as saying that this is one of the best-written history books that I’ve read this year.
Another thing that is great is that he gives the perfect amount of context. You can know absolutely nothing about the Renaissance, pick this book up, and learn a lot. Conversely, you can be very far down the Renaissance rabbit hole (as I am) and will learn just as much.
Finally, both the book and audiobook are chalk full of drawings and illustrations. I listened to the Audible version of the Audiobook which has a wonderful accompanying PDF with 150 HD illustrations, which adds a lot.
This is the perfect book to give to someone as a Christmas or birthday gift. Anyone can pick it up, read it, and put it down. I suspect that the print version is also highly skimmable, with readers able to pick it up, flip to any page, read the chapter about the illustrations, and put it down. I look forward to reading Walter Isaacson’s other books.
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