Walter Isaacson has done it again. Being known for his incredibly well-written biographies about Steve Jobs and Einstein, Walter may have had the toughest challenge yet. Especially since Leonardo lived 500 years ago. You might wonder how Walter could write 524 pages about him in such detail. That’s because Leonardo kept thousands of notes and journals and little scribbles for us to figure out. Writing something personal on a note about the anatomy of a horse wasn’t odd for him. Revisiting old notes to write new experiences on them without any date was also common. Luckily researchers across the world have been solving the puzzle. This includes figuring out dates, locations and more with diverse techniques.
While doing research for this article, I came across the Dutch version of the book, which I might have preferred. But this book definitely helped me improve my English vocabulary. The book is masterfully written and the vocabulary of Walter is exquisite in ways that defy description. It seems that every word has been thought-through. I used the Google Translate app on my phone to translate difficult words and the list saves automatically. So I got a nice list of words for you (this list is small compared to my full list).
paroxysm – rites – gregarious – lascivious – inculcated – bevy – happenstance – papal – fovea – phyllotactic – menagerie – dilettantism – duchy (this isn’t a curse word) – aphorism – salacious – tumultuous – flotilla – sodomy – trompe l’oeil – androgynous – pugnacious – sfumato
There are lots of terms in this book about drawing, nature, religion and the human body. Quite often I didn’t understand the terms in general so it forced me to learn them.
Leonardo is a … well let’s use Walters’ description:
Leonardo was a genius, but more: he was the epitome of the universal mind, one who sought to understand all of creation, including how we fit into it.
Leonardo may have been born 300 years too soon. Living in the 15th century, he achieved historic breakthroughs that had not been proved and touched upon hundreds of years later. The cause of these breakthroughs was his immense curiosity. Always questioning the most random things. One note in his notebook was to ‘describe the tongue of the woodpecker’. First of all, why did he want to know this? That’s because the tongue has a very important function. The tongue of a woodpecker works as a cushion, shielding the brain from shocks made by smashing trees with its beak. But what made him think that the tongue had an important function? His curiosity for everything.
Walter wrote the chapters relatively chronological. From the young starting years to the elderly years of Leonardo. It includes all of Leonardo’s drawings and other pursuits like dissecting humans/animals, designing flying machines, dissecting rivers, designing military devices like tanks and a lot more. Leonardo’s personal life is
Sometimes the current time could be unclear because there was so much information about his pursuits. Also, the collection of projects Leonardo worked on, had a wide timespan. If one work of art took 5 years, and during those years changes happened in Leonardo’s life, Walter explained the work of art in one chapter and the life changes in another. This was an obvious thing to do. However, the switch in timespans can be a challenge to the reader because it happened quite often. As a consequence, the reader has to be concentrated while reading.
Therefore I wouldn’t recommend this book as a fun, easy read for your beach vacation. The book is super interesting and informative, so you should approach the book with the intention to learn. It wasn’t an easy read and it took a while to finish. At the end of the book, there is a list of things to learn from Leonardo and it’s nice to revisit the list. The list includes, for example, the fact that being curious makes life more exciting.
I would definitely recommend anyone with an interest in masterminds, art, and history to read this book. It is a great way to improve your English as well.
Thanks for reading!