leonardo’s life

Another in the occasional series of 'what I'm reading'. This time it's a modern biography of Leonardo da Vinci: The Science of Leonardo, by Fritjof Capra (2007). It's a beautiful book, from the cover, to the sepia-toned type, to the writing itself. And the author does a beautiful job of making 'the great genius of the Renaissance' come alive.

Leonardo da Vinci was an amazing man. Capra does an excellent job in fleshing out both his character and the times he lived in. Like a lot of people, I guess I knew him as the man who painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, with a lot of drawing and inventing (including proposals for submarines and flying machines) on the side – he produced prolific diagrams of everything that came to mind. (He produced around 20,000 (!) pages of notes, drawings, and commentary, of which about 50% was lost in the centuries after his death. You have to wonder how much more he knew and did, that we'll never know about.) And he did that backwards (mirror) writing.

But Capra describes a man who was much more complex than this: architect, town planner, military engineer, cartographer, anatomist, self-taught scholar and mathematician (as an illegitimate son of a nobleman, his schooling was pretty limited). And – a scientist, who used scientific methodology to describe and understand and explain the world around him. In describing how he approached a particular question, Leonardo wrote: First I shall do some experiments before I proceed further, because my intention is to cite experience first and then with reasoning show why such experience is bound to operate in such a way. And this is the true rule by which those who speculate about the effects of nature must proceed (cited in Capra, 2007). I think I have another scientific hero 🙂

And I recommend the book – it works so well on many levels: history, biography, science book…truly, well worth a read.

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