Leonardo Da Vinci – Case Study of a Genius

The first impression from the book is the incredible amount of research that has gone into making a book on a person that lived in the late 1400s through till the first quarter of the 16th century. Helped, undoubtedly, by the voluminous notes left behind by Leonardo, Walter Isaacson has weaved a wonderfully chronological and detailed story around the life and times of the arguably one of the greatest geniuses that the world has ever known. Starting from his ancestry, tracing the story of his birth and childhood, through the multiple cities and works of the man leading up to his demise in 1519, it is truly a testament to the work that the author has put in to bring Leonardo’s story to us.

For me, what stands out from the entire book is the pure obsession that Leonardo had with whatever interested him. Like the author suggests, even if Leonardo had chosen to write a book or had been able to publish one of his many research topics, he would have been credited with having discovered things that came into light many years later. Leonardo spent years researching the human anatomy and his drawings that have survived till date, and his acute sense of observation resulted in findings that were proved right centuries later. It is the world’s loss that his observations did not see the light of day in the 15th or 16th century. He was the first person to accurately depict the human anatomy, with a detailed study of the spinal cord, the facial muscles, the teeth, etc. Incredible – he was a perfect mix of pure talent at painting/ drawing and intelligence married with a sense of purpose and obsession with discovering and learning. His studies on fluid dynamics were way ahead of his time. His paintings, including the Last Supper and Mona Lisa demonstrated his understanding of waves, optics and light.

A few things stood out for me – a comment about how difficult it was to locate all of Steve Jobs emails compared to locating all the hand written notes of Leonardo. In this digital era, our footprint is mostly online – saved as 0’s and 1’s, susceptible to corruption by any number of means. Handwritten notes have stood the test of time for over 400 years. Food for thought. (The author has written the biography of Steve Jobs – a must read)

The conclusion from the author, listing his observations/ learnings to take away from Leonardo’s life. I find it worth summarizing here. There are useful lessons in this for anyone:

  • Be curious, relentlessly curious (personal note: reminds me of a friend who is definitely a genius when it comes to this aspect)
  • Seek knowledge for its own sake
  • Retain a childlike sense of wonder
  • Observe
  • Start with the details
  • See things unseen
  • Go down rabbit holes
  • Get distracted
  • Respect facts
  • Procrastinate
  • Think visually
  • Avoid silos
  • Let your reach exceed your grasp
  • Indulge fantasy
  • Create for yourself, not just for patrons
  • Collaborate
  • Make lists
  • Take notes, on paper
The benefit for these observations from Leonardo Da Vinci’s life lies purely with the author.
  I would rate the book 3.5 stars out of 5. For me, the description of the paintings was difficult to follow and I came away with a sense of appreciation for the author’s observation of the details in the painting rather than an appreciation of the painting itself. For understanding what made this particular genius tick, worth spending some time over.

Residing in Bengaluru, I am a Techie by profession and a thinker and doer by birth. I muse about any topic under the sun and love to share my thoughts in print when I am not doing something with them. I love reading and at some point, thought that maybe others would like to read what I have to write, too!

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