Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson

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Sometimes, to understand where the world is going, we need to look to and learn from the past.

I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s biography: Leonardo Da Vinci.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves biographies, is interested in interdisciplinary thinking, and wants to learn from someone who has created a template for modern day thinking.

Da Vinci is often erroneously distilled down to the artist who created two of the most famous paintings in history: the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. As we know however, he was instead a polymath who started off his life as a relatively disinterested student who begrudgingly completed the minimum formal school training.

A polymath is someone with a wide range of skills and a wide range of interests across a disparate set of fields. Leonardo was an inventor, painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, musician, mathematician, engineer, writer, botanist, geologist, astronomer and cartographer among other pursuits.

Most scholars consider him to be the quintessential “renaissance man” who took advantage of his time and place in history to be curious about his world and increase his own personal wisdom for the betterment of his fellow human. My favorite descriptor by art historian Kenneth Clark calls him, “the most relentlessly curious man in history.”

As Issacson writes: “The 15th century of Leonardo and Columbus and Gutenberg was a time of invention, exploration, and the spread of knowledge by new technologies. In short, it was a time like our own. His ability to combine art, science, technologies, the humanities, and imagination remains an enduring recipe for creativity.”

This book is a sprawling recount of Da Vinci’s life. While at times the author can get bogged down in the minutiae of a particular event, piece, or moment in his life, the book flies despite its 525 page length.

All of us, but especially our children, can learn from Da Vinci’s non-linear approach to his life. He was fascinated by the world around him and he learned by being intensely curious and non-traditional in his thinking. He was the first to approach art from a mathematical and scientific lens, for example. He studied anatomy before feeling ready to paint the human body.

Most significantly, perhaps, as depicted in his awe inspiring Vitruvian Man drawing, was his ability to see the profound connection between man and the natural world around him. He did this using equal parts imagination, art, and science.

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