cover image Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

Walter Isaacson. Simon & Schuster, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-1-5011-3915-4

Praising the subject of this illuminating biography as “history’s most creative genius,” Isaacson (The Innovators) uses observations and insights in the 7,200 extant pages of notes Leonardo da Vinci left behind as interpretive touchstones for assessing the artist’s life and work. The key to da Vinci’s genius as an innovator, as Isaacson presents it, was his “ability to make connections across disciplines—arts and sciences, humanities, and technology” coupled with “an imagination so excitable that it flirted with the edges of fantasy.” Proceeding chronologically through the artist’s life—from his apprenticeship at age 14 in Florence under Andrea del Verrochio to his later years in the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan and his death in France in 1519—Isaacson shows how da Vinci’s inquisitiveness set him apart from his contemporaries but frequently distracted him from completing commissions or projects. The author portrays da Vinci’s minor works and major works such as Vitruvian Man and The Last Supper as steps toward his execution of Mona Lisa, “a quest to portray the complexities of human emotion” that represents “the culmination of a life spent perfecting an ability to stand at the intersection of art and nature.” Isaacson’s scholarship is impressive—he cites not only primary sources but secondary materials by art critics, essayists, and da Vinci’s other biographers. This is a monumental tribute to a titanic figure. Color illus. (Oct.)