Sunday, January 21, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Our history/historical fiction book group is reading Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. It’s a remarkably detailed biography/analysis of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings (surprisingly few) and notebooks (a treasure trove.) I learned a great deal about the artist/engineer/architect–you name it–but the book was on the slow side. The author got a bit repetitive in making his points.

Da Vinci was undeniably a genius. His artwork revolutionized understanding of perspective and three-dimensionality. But painting was just one of his many talents. Everyone who reads this book will likely find a favorite facet of his skill–one they find most impressive. I was particularly intrigued by his anatomical studies and drawings. These were not simply done to inform his painting. It seems that he dissected human and animal bodies, documenting his findings in numerous drawings, because he was insatiably curious.

The author touches very lightly on Da Vinci’s personal life. The book does give a basic chronology but primarily as a framework for highlighting the interests and accomplishments of different time periods in the artist’s life. We meet some of the important historical figures of the day. Da Vinci was able to slip from patron to patron, avoiding political entanglements even when he acted as a military engineer or consultant.

One of the nicest things about the book is its physical quality. I bought the hardcover as a Christmas present for my husband and myself. The illustrations scattered throughout are beautifully crisp and large enough to see. They aren’t all grouped in one spot (which would made it difficult to flip back and forth to see what the author was talking about), but are present in the context of the narrative. And they are plentiful.

I haven’t read anything else by this author, but I do recommend this one for anyone curious about the reasons Leonardo da Vinci achieved such lasting fame. It isn’t only the Mona Lisa!