Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson


Rate: 3/5


Medium: Audiobook


Overview:

Having previously read and for the most part enjoyed Isaacson’s Einstein and The Innovators, I was excited to get my hands on his newest work regarding Leonardo Da Vinci. Intrigued by a topic and time period of which I know very little, I was excited to dive into this treasure-trove of new material. As a senior in high school, I once took a humanities class in community college, where the focus was upon art throughout the ages.  With the dismissiveness of youth and general immaturity, I put minimal effort into a class that I didn’t view as aiding me in my narrow, tunnel vision skewed future life. With present day self reflection, I realize now as an adult, how much I would enjoy retaking that class for the sole sake of learning. With that being said, Isaacson’s level of detail regarding culture, key players, and history of the Renascence and Italy during the late 1400s/early 1500s was fascinating to say the least. A captivating individual, Da Vinci’s boundless curiosity was inspiring and thought provoking, ultimately serving as a reminder to pique our own levels of everyday observation and questioning.  Dabbling in various fields from painting, to architecture, engineering and medicine, da Vinci’s observations and findings were extraordinary, not only for their sheer breadth but also that so many of his conclusions were centuries for before his time. Due to da Vinci not publishing any of his findings, many of his discoveries had to be rediscovered decades, and in some cases, centuries in the future with the link to da Vinci being made in hindsight.  Significant portions of this book are appropriately spent describing da Vinci’s notable works of art in a high level of detail. Initially during these sections I found myself literarily lost, likely due to the medium with which I was consuming this book, i.e., audiobook, as I didn’t have the images right in front of me.  This issue was quickly remedied as I would Google said paintings while they were being highlighted.  Perhaps this book is a great example of one that is better read through a physical book or Kindle.  With regard to Isaacson’s critical insight, multiple times throughout the text, this seasoned author seemed to lose his unbiased narration and slip into the role of a fan boy.  Additionally, in stark contrast to his other books, he seemed to liberally be offering his own opinions on why his character of interest, in this case da Vinci made certain decisions or actions. Every time one of these opinions was freely given, I couldn’t help wondering what researchers who had devoted their life to this subject thought about this intrigue and if there was sound reasoning either opposing Isaacson’s view or supporting it.  Upon pondering this quandary further I’ve settled on two mindsets as to perhaps why Isaacson chose this method for portrayal. My first impression was that Isaacson was treating da Vinci’s life as if he were in a museum observing one of his legendary works of art, thereby allowing the author to glean impressions or freely offer his opinions regarding why da Vince made the decisions he did.  Secondly, perhaps Isaacson felt more literary freedom to have his own interpretation of da Vinci’s actions due to the Renassance man’s life taking place over half a millennium ago, which is in a significant extended time window in comparison to the relatively modern Einstein and the individuals highlighted in The Innovators. Regardless, every time he inserted one of his personal opinions into the narrative, it grabbed my attention and drove me to distraction.  On a side note, and art lovers please do not berate me for this opinion, I have such a hard time understanding the fascination with the Mona Lisa.  After reading what basically amount to a love letter from Isaacson, I stared and stared at this painting trying to understand his level of adoration. While I do not dislike the Mona Lisa, I found da Vinci’s other works to be much more impressive and moving, e.g.,  The Lady with an Ermine, The Last Supper, Virgin of the Rocks. Overall, Leonardo da Vinci offers a plethora of details regarding the life and world of this legendary lifelong learner and artist, whose work has inspired countless individuals.


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20 comments

  1. I agree with you about the Mona Lisa! The Virgin of the Rocks is my favorite by far. If you ever have the chance, see the one in the National Gallery in London. It is amazing!

    And author’s personal opinions aside, I will have to read this one. Da Vinci is one of my favorite historical figures!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there!
    If you are truly interested in why the Mona Lisa is truly fabulous- you must see her in person, sadly-most of us cannot travel to France, so if you have any deep interest – I am attaching a link you may find interesting describing what she is like in person- AND as an added bonus a winding tripping book that tells the tale about her “kidnapping”.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/leonardo-da-vinci-mona-lisa-smile/540636/

    Vanished Smile by RA Scotti

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I haven’t seen the Mona Lisa in real life, but I think my favourite will always be the Lady with an Ermine 🙂 it may be because I’ve seen it more than a few times (it’s in Kraków, Poland where I grew up) or it may be because the ermine is cute… or because it’s simply an amazing painting- so glad you mentioned it as one of your favourites!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, I was an art major in college, but I never really got why the Mona Lisa was held in such esteem over his other works. Granted it’s a good example of sfumato and chiaroscuro, but so are a lot of his others.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ahoy there matey! Very interesting review. I find DaVinci fascinating but do think the Mona Lisa is his least interesting work personally. I have been to the Louvre multiple times and the painting just seems small and lackluster. Though I will take a look at the link referenced above to see another perspective of why people love it.
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am glad you wrote this. I recieved a package and the moment I picked it up, I knew. The weight the thickness, just the feel of it.. My Son had gifted me Grant by Chernow. He and his wife nailed it. I pre-ordered in as soon as it was available. So… I called them and let them know how perfect the choice was, but I was already over a third of the way through… so off to the book store to exchange it. I picked up Leonardo Da Vinci. – your review helps me confirm I made the right choice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Guy! I only had 3 hours left in the Grant book before my library loan expired. Now I’m waiting impatiently for the book to come available again so I can finish the final three hours. In all seriousness I really enjoyed the Grant book. Probably more than this one. This is a personal preference, but I enjoy Chernow’s writing style and level in detail in comparison to Isaacson. Regardless, I don’t think there is a bad choice here. Both books are well done!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I really liked Chernow’s Washington Bio. So this was a given I’de like Grant. That must really suck to have to wait for the last few hours. That would drive me nuts. – I’m in Les Miserables too. 2500 pages between them. Talk about door stops. Loving Les Mis too.

        Liked by 1 person

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