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Leonardo Da Vinci: Flights of the Mind: A Biography

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For five centuries, Leonardo da Vinci has stood alone as the quintessential Renaissance man—the incomparable artist, writer, thinker, and inventor who most powerfully transformed his world. In this dazzling new intimate biography, award-winning author Charles Nicholl creates a portrait of the artist for our time—a biography that brings Leonardo to life as a complex man liv For five centuries, Leonardo da Vinci has stood alone as the quintessential Renaissance man—the incomparable artist, writer, thinker, and inventor who most powerfully transformed his world. In this dazzling new intimate biography, award-winning author Charles Nicholl creates a portrait of the artist for our time—a biography that brings Leonardo to life as a complex man living in a fascinating, dangerous, quickly changing world. Drawing freely on his own original translations of Leonardo’s notebooks as well as newly discovered contemporary accounts, Nicholl captures the very texture of Leonardo’s mind and the pungent visceral impressions he transmuted into art. Detail by brilliant detail, Nicholl reconstructs the life and times of the artist, from his troubled childhood as the illegitimate son of an established Tuscan family to his years of apprenticeship in the burgeoning art world of Medici Florence to his unrivaled achievements in a breathtaking array of disciplines and media. Here, too, are compelling new answers to the enduring mysteries of Leonardo’s sexual orientation, the true identity of the Mona Lisa, and the early experiences that inspired his lifelong obsession with human flight. A writer of irresistible charm and quicksilver imagination, Nicholl takes us from the backstreet artists’ studios of Florence to the glittering palazzi of the Medici, Sforza, and Borgia families as he pursues the most extravagantly talented and maddeningly elusive artist of all time. The result is a biography of rare grace and penetration.


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For five centuries, Leonardo da Vinci has stood alone as the quintessential Renaissance man—the incomparable artist, writer, thinker, and inventor who most powerfully transformed his world. In this dazzling new intimate biography, award-winning author Charles Nicholl creates a portrait of the artist for our time—a biography that brings Leonardo to life as a complex man liv For five centuries, Leonardo da Vinci has stood alone as the quintessential Renaissance man—the incomparable artist, writer, thinker, and inventor who most powerfully transformed his world. In this dazzling new intimate biography, award-winning author Charles Nicholl creates a portrait of the artist for our time—a biography that brings Leonardo to life as a complex man living in a fascinating, dangerous, quickly changing world. Drawing freely on his own original translations of Leonardo’s notebooks as well as newly discovered contemporary accounts, Nicholl captures the very texture of Leonardo’s mind and the pungent visceral impressions he transmuted into art. Detail by brilliant detail, Nicholl reconstructs the life and times of the artist, from his troubled childhood as the illegitimate son of an established Tuscan family to his years of apprenticeship in the burgeoning art world of Medici Florence to his unrivaled achievements in a breathtaking array of disciplines and media. Here, too, are compelling new answers to the enduring mysteries of Leonardo’s sexual orientation, the true identity of the Mona Lisa, and the early experiences that inspired his lifelong obsession with human flight. A writer of irresistible charm and quicksilver imagination, Nicholl takes us from the backstreet artists’ studios of Florence to the glittering palazzi of the Medici, Sforza, and Borgia families as he pursues the most extravagantly talented and maddeningly elusive artist of all time. The result is a biography of rare grace and penetration.

30 review for Leonardo Da Vinci: Flights of the Mind: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Watkins

    To write a biography of Leonardo that does not make the reader feel uselessly unaccomplished and inadequate, or dewy eyed with adoration, is quite a feat. Of course Leonardo considered himself something of a failure, but that’s just poppycock on his part; though it is worth pondering why he was so unsatisfied with his countless accomplishments, just as it is to ask why Thomas Aquinas near the end of his life considered all his writings to be so much straw.* This is a portrait in the Leonardo man To write a biography of Leonardo that does not make the reader feel uselessly unaccomplished and inadequate, or dewy eyed with adoration, is quite a feat. Of course Leonardo considered himself something of a failure, but that’s just poppycock on his part; though it is worth pondering why he was so unsatisfied with his countless accomplishments, just as it is to ask why Thomas Aquinas near the end of his life considered all his writings to be so much straw.* This is a portrait in the Leonardo manner - a refined and patient attention to details that are then subsumed by a mystery-engendering sfumato in the larger composition: thousands of details closely observed funnel into the mind to be formed into a larger project, but which are instead caught up in whirlpools of a restlessly ramifying intellect, and never quite totally coalesce, which in the end is probably closer to reality anyway. And Leonardo was first and foremost interested in reality, so we shouldn’t begrudge him his many incomplete projects. Reality and the human mind are endless… Nicholl does not channel his energies into overt psychological analysis (leaving that to Freud) or an over-interpretation of the art works. Instead he fleshes out terse (decidedly un-literary) notebook entries into a living portrait, a roughly day-to-day Leonardo. Nicholl pored over these notebooks and found in rather innocuous entries - lists of books owned, lists of people known, even simple word lists – insight into Leonardo’s character. This approach is anatomized in the introduction where he shows his method by focusing on a late notebook entry on serious artistic/scientific matters that is interrupted by Leonardo telling himself that he better go eat because his soup is getting cold. Leonardo always had one eye on the “heavens” and one eye on the bowl of soup in front of him. Without being cloying or excessive, or too far fetched, Nicholl brings Leonardo down to earth - though Leonardo’s “down-to-earth” is decidedly dandyish (how his hands smelled of rose water is mentioned a few times) - through cautiously speculative extrapolation of notebook entries and historical mentions of Leonardo; but he only brings him down to earth in order to more clearly show how his imagination soared. This is not Leonardo as genius or magus, but Leonardo as a man; not to say that he wasn’t a genius or even a magus, but what is delivered here is a Leonardo as (hypothetically) known by an intimate personal companion, and through this hypothetical companion I now have the illusion that I actually know Leonardo, however much the numerous residual mysteries overwhelm my knowledge. * With a deft tweak of interpretation these two monumentally aberrant self-appraisals can begin to sound inspirational to us more common folk; they can tell us that accomplishments do not in the end matter, that what matters is the individual and his/her own apprehension of truth and authenticity, and living a life as such, which is ever fluctuating (or should be), while works and accomplishments are like limited snapshots; but still, we’d all like to actually do something, right?, to give some kind of shape to the entangled whirlwinds of our emotional and intellectual lives.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Netta

    “All biographers secretly want to annex and channel the sex-lives of their subjects”, writes Julian Barnes in his novelesque biography of Flaubert and continues, “you must make your judgment on me as well as on Flaubert”. Apparently, writing Leonardo da Vinci biography, Charles Nicholl wasn’t aware of that. Though being a different kind of a biography reader, I did not intend to make any judgment on Mr Nicholl. Until I finished his book with, I must confess, a little a lot of skimming. As every “All biographers secretly want to annex and channel the sex-lives of their subjects”, writes Julian Barnes in his novelesque biography of Flaubert and continues, “you must make your judgment on me as well as on Flaubert”. Apparently, writing Leonardo da Vinci biography, Charles Nicholl wasn’t aware of that. Though being a different kind of a biography reader, I did not intend to make any judgment on Mr Nicholl. Until I finished his book with, I must confess, a little a lot of skimming. As every devoted Leonardo researcher Charles Nicholl, of course, has his own views, theories and interpretations of every known and enigmatic event in Leonardo's life. It's only natural that writing a book on the subject he wants to share them with his audience and add something to already (too) huge Leonardo discourse. There's nothing wrong with that. What is wrong though is that a) main focus of Mr Nicholl's attention is Leonardo's relationship with his father, ser Piero, and Leonardo's relationship with men b) instead of nicely putting his assumptions in one chapter, Mr Nicholl scattered them through the whole book. That said, if Sigmund Freud (who as you may know wrote his own essay on the subject, called Leonardo da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood) was alive now, he'd been immensely happy to get acquainted with Charles Nicholl's book. Probably he even would've written something on Leonardo's biographer's memories of childhood as well. I have to emphasize here, before I continue, that my complaints have nothing to do with Leonardo's possible homosexuality or the influence his father's figure might have had on Leonardo's life and art. Undoubtedly, these are the topics to be discussed in a decent da Vinci biography, but these are not the only topics to be discussed, not the only way to look at the man who created the greatest masterpieces of all time. Mr Nicholl, however, tries to interpret everything Leonardo did from the perspective of either a confused man with suppressed desire or an illegitimate child (equal to an unloved child in this case). In some cases Mr Nicholl goes bold and blends both a man and a child. As a result, reader has not a glimpse of Leonardo personality, let alone his sparkling genius. According to the book, Leonardo was mostly a doubtful, restless person who kept fighting against his nature in many ways. In between these acts of inner struggle he painted a few things. However you wouldn’t be told why these things are considered to be magnificent and insightful, but you certainly would be told how these paintings, drawings and murals prove that Leonardo preferred men to women and suffered from his childhood father related trauma. I’ll give you an example. According to Mr Nicholl, Leonardo worked for notorious Cesare Borgia not because he was at that time a powerful and wealthy ruler of a huge domain; not because Cesare employed Leonardo (at last!) as military architect and engineer; certainly not because Cesare gave da Vinci an unlimited pass to every bit of his empire which also meant that Leonardo could not worry about his safety. No. Cesare Borgia was a strong, handsome man, a father-lover figure poor confused homosexual illegitimate child was bound to cling to. The other thing Mr Nicholl is obsessed with is Leonardo’s expenses. He goes into exquisite detail describing (oh so many times) what Leonardo bought and what the cost for each item was. Surely this helps to estimate how wealthy da Vinci was and how he preferred to spend his income, it just needs some more structure. Again, why not devote the whole chapter to how, when and on what Leonardo spent his money? Why scatter? Apparently, Mr Nicholl believes in magical power of blending things and making one continuous never-ending narrative. The same goes for giving some background information. Sometimes I asked myself if I was still reading the book about da Vinci or a book about Renaissance Florence? Lorenzo Medici? The house of Sforza? The problem is that be it a book on any mentioned topic, it wouldn’t get any better, because wealthy families, conflicts and other painters were represented in a way too naïve and biased manner. Moreover, almost every other creative person (be it a painter, or a poet, or an architect) mentioned in the book somehow influenced Leonardo or was influenced by him (despite the fact that some connections are not obvious and it’s not enough to live in one town or one period of time to influence one another). In the preface Mr Nicholl writes that his intention was to show Leonardo da Vinci as a human being, not a demigod epitome of a so-called “Renaissance Man”. Indeed, he succeeded. I’d say he surpassed his original idea, and in this case it means to utterly fail. Nonetheless, Mr Nicholl obviously loves his hero. At the very end of the book he even goes lyrical, saying that no matter what happened to Leonardo’s body, liable to rot, his restless mind was set free. It would have been a nice way to finish Leonardo da Vinci biography if this biography in question was at least not that bad and chaotic. If this book is to be your first Leonardo da Vinci biography or if you consider buying this book in paper, put it down very slowly. Go for Martin Kemp first. Or Ross King. Or Wikipedia page (at least it’s free!). I know what I’m talking about – this book was my long awaited birthday treat to myself a year ago. If this book is a part of your collection of Leonardo biographies (my case) then go for it and form your own opinion.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    I strongly discommend this book. If you're looking for a good, comprehensive book on Leonardo da Vinci, I'd recommend you to continue your search. I've read a number of reviews on a number of different books on Leonardo, to find the right one for me, and ended up with this one because of its high average rating. However I must admit that it was a huge disappointment, for the following reasons: 1. Even though Leonardo led a pretty chronological life, the author skillfully manages to mess up the tim I strongly discommend this book. If you're looking for a good, comprehensive book on Leonardo da Vinci, I'd recommend you to continue your search. I've read a number of reviews on a number of different books on Leonardo, to find the right one for me, and ended up with this one because of its high average rating. However I must admit that it was a huge disappointment, for the following reasons: 1. Even though Leonardo led a pretty chronological life, the author skillfully manages to mess up the timeline so much that one is left with confusion regarding the dates of paintings, Leonardo moving to different places, meeting different people, doing different things. The author jumps from A to C, then back to B, then to K, then back to B, and then to O. 2. The vast majority of paintings, drawings and architectural structures the author talks about is not represented in the book. One has to google them, and most of the time will not find the right image, as many drawings/paintings by various artists have the same name, or because the reference by the author is vague (e.g. "drawing in Paris MS 10") 3. There's as much psychology in this book as arts. The author tries to explain pretty much everything Leonardo says/paints with some subconscious motives, referring many times to Freud. He sees patterns where there are none, and tries to link a painting done by Leonardo when he was 50 with a dream he had when he was a little kid, "because the shadow in the painting looks like a bird, and Leonardo had this strange dream about a bird when he was a kid". This highly resembles for example people who see the face of Jesus in everything, from toasts to rock formations. 4. The way the book is written distracts consistently from the main points. The author keeps dropping names just to show that he has done his research: "Leonardo attended this fair, where also was present, A, B, C, D, E, F (whom Leonardo has met before), G, H, I, J, K and L. Possibly also M, N and O". With no link whatsoever to their importance in Leonardo's life. Another example is the shopping lists - the author just keeps throwing in Leonardo's shopping lists (he bought A for 5 soldi, B for 7 soldi, C for 2 ducats, D for 13 soldi, E for 5 ducats). And each time, the reader is left with the question "so what?". It's nice to see some small, mundane details once a while, but the author just keeps repeating and repeating them. 5. In combination with the points above, the (literary) way this book is written makes reading this book an actual struggle. It's definitely not easy-to-read, and I've considered many times just putting it down, despite my great motivation to learn as much as possible about Leonardo. I finished this book just for the sake of finishing the book. 6. As mentioned by another reader below, this book mostly focuses on Leonardo as a painter, and even fails in that massively. It's technical analysis of the paintings is extremely limited, most of it being (incorrect) interpretation, or mentioning that there are preparatory sketches of a particular painting, or that it was probably done by someone else while Leonardo supervised. Regarding Leonardo's other achievements, the book provides just a brief description, mainly focusing on just Leonardo's sketches for manned flight. 7. The book is full of hypotheses and (Freudian) misinterpretations. An example: "Leonardo traveled to Milan, with him was A and B. It's possible that C was also with him, we don't know it. Also with him could be D and E, again we don't know. It could be that Leonardo met F in Milan [just because F happens to live in Milan], but again we don't know. G and H could have come to visit him, but it's also possible that G and H were somewhere else". A daunting amount of maybe-s, possibly-s. could be-s, without any substantiation whatsoever just proves that this book is mainly based on guesswork to make it more dramatic/romantic or to try to link Leonardo to as many people as possible. 8. Finally, the short review on the books cover says that "the book brings Leonardo down from his lonely pedestal", because apparently many people feel bad about themselves after reading about Leonardo's achievements. The book succeeds in this so much, that one is actually left with the feeling that Leonardo is an underachiever - just another ordinary painter from the 15th-16th century; no big deal. This provides an extremely incorrect image - and is even disrespectful - of a great artist and intellectual, a true homo universalis.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andreas Fetz

    Really loved this. I can't imagine there being a more exhaustive book on da Vinci. Nicholl goes over all that is known about his life and works and while managing to give all the facts, also indulges in a lot of "what if's" and context, all of which brings what could otherwise be an overly dry and academic book to life. The world that he lived in is vividly described and the broader cultural and political movements are all given full consideration. And where gaps in the knowledge exist, he gives Really loved this. I can't imagine there being a more exhaustive book on da Vinci. Nicholl goes over all that is known about his life and works and while managing to give all the facts, also indulges in a lot of "what if's" and context, all of which brings what could otherwise be an overly dry and academic book to life. The world that he lived in is vividly described and the broader cultural and political movements are all given full consideration. And where gaps in the knowledge exist, he gives plausible descriptions of what things might have been like based on what we know of other, similar circumstances from the same time. That, and da Vinci is just a fascinating man - full of contradictions and complexity, undeniably a genius, yet also deeply flawed and imperfect. In some ways that was what I enjoyed most about this book. One can tend to think of genius as springing up fully formed, yet it is the failings and shortcomings and struggles that form the ground for that genius to emerge. A really great book. While maybe a bit too academic for some people, if you are at all a history buff like me, or are simply interested in da Vinci, I highly recommend it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    El

    Leonardo da Vinci’s biography with a very detailed description of his work. A stream of citations and details that mostly, if not only, concern those who want to study da Vinci in detail rather than read about him. Several published reviews claimed that this is an easy book to read, while in fact it is anything but. I’d recommend it to students and teachers who deal with the subject and da Vinci’s era but not ‘amateur’ da Vinci readers.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kali Samutratanakul

    "How could you describe this heart without filling a whole book?" -written by Leonardo under an anatomical drawing of the human heart. EDIT: This book changed my life, and when I reread an earlier version of the review I felt like I didn't do it enough justice. This book brings you back to Quattrocentro Italy at the start of the renaissance, which not only fostered new ideas and innovations, but also meant the crumbling of basically all conventional beliefs and knowledge. Leonardo was born out of "How could you describe this heart without filling a whole book?" -written by Leonardo under an anatomical drawing of the human heart. EDIT: This book changed my life, and when I reread an earlier version of the review I felt like I didn't do it enough justice. This book brings you back to Quattrocentro Italy at the start of the renaissance, which not only fostered new ideas and innovations, but also meant the crumbling of basically all conventional beliefs and knowledge. Leonardo was born out of wedlock in a modest little stone house rented by his grandfather to farmhands. From there, Nicholl shows us Leonardo's humble, unlettered origins and takes us on a wonderful journey through his life that charmingly portrays him as a full and real human being, as far away as possible from the coldness of the term "genius". In this book, Leonardo da Vinci, polymath and genius was a young boy caught up in the complicated family dynamics of step-parents and siblings. A young man ashamed of his own sexuality. An old man haunted by the works he never completed, convinced that he was never productive enough to leave a lasting impact on the world. He was the guy with clever word games, fun picture puzzles. A guy who wrote dirty jokes he happened to hear on the street, bought dandy clothes, who got angry and sad and disappointed, and who was, in many instances, a victim of circumstances like the rest of us. The book itself is masterfully-written and well-researched. Aside from Leonardo's own journals, Nicholl references many other contemporaries, from the diary of Florentine apothecary Luca Landucci to Niccolo' Machiavelli and Marsilio Ficino, along with other general insights into life in Quattrocento Italy. People who enjoy learning more about history would love this book, though I highly urge everybody to read it, if only just to see that they do share a vulnerable, tender part of themselves with one of the most famous and brilliant people in the world. In short: absolutely beautiful, rich, and memorable. I've read it like 3 times already and am still amazed by it. GO READ IT.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Leonardo da Vinci was truly a fascinating man and this book does an excellent job of highlighting his unique brilliance. In an age of the Renaissance man, da Vinci managed to stand out, not an easy thing to do among the other famous men of his day: Michelango, Raphael, Bramante, Cesare Borgia, three different popes, etc. He lived through tumultuous times with the exile of the Medici and Sforza in Florence and Milan, respectively, and then their return years later. The French and the young violen Leonardo da Vinci was truly a fascinating man and this book does an excellent job of highlighting his unique brilliance. In an age of the Renaissance man, da Vinci managed to stand out, not an easy thing to do among the other famous men of his day: Michelango, Raphael, Bramante, Cesare Borgia, three different popes, etc. He lived through tumultuous times with the exile of the Medici and Sforza in Florence and Milan, respectively, and then their return years later. The French and the young violent Borgia also caused havoc in the region and it seems that everyone that was anyone was vying for Leonardo's attentions for paintings, engineering, sculpting, architecture, etc. Nicholl does a wonderful job explaining the significance of his works and his eccentricity of trying to make man fly and his bravery to go against the Pope in his anatomical studies and dissections. The problem I had with the book is that so much of it is conjecture. Leonardo left a wealth of information about his works, but not about himself. In his "infinite notebooks" there are jottings of his feelings, especially as he was aging, but they are not diaries in the normal sense. When he is in the service of the Borgia he says nothing, he says nothing about the discovery of the Americas and Caribbean. The book is full of "probably," "maybe," "perhaps," etc. There just isn't enough personal information to tell a real story. I couldn't come away with any real ideas of his personality, was he dreamy? arrogant? Practical despite his creative inventions (science fiction even)? All in all I did learn a lot and I am very impressed by Nicholl's research, his bibliography is extensive and his passion is evident. It just wasn't as cohesive as a narrative as I was hoping and at times I felt bored with the lists of household expenses and the constant wondering if this person was really that person.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    After I came back from Italy I became obssessed with anything to do with Leonardo Da Vinci. On my bookshelf I must have 10 or so books about him. This is my least favorite book as it is not a true picture of the man as a whole. This book only deals with his life in art, not in technology, religion of the mysteries surrounding his involvement in the Iluminati. I can recommend better books.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joel Mitchell

    It was a bit of a slog to make it through this biography. The overall outline of Leonardo's life and works was interesting, and I appreciate the author's frequent citations of contemporary sources, but I was less than impressed with how he went about interpreting the sources and filling in the details. The author was definitely most interested in Leonardo Da Vinci as a painter. He speculates about the origins, possible models, and hidden meanings of Leonardo's paintings ad nauseum while giving a It was a bit of a slog to make it through this biography. The overall outline of Leonardo's life and works was interesting, and I appreciate the author's frequent citations of contemporary sources, but I was less than impressed with how he went about interpreting the sources and filling in the details. The author was definitely most interested in Leonardo Da Vinci as a painter. He speculates about the origins, possible models, and hidden meanings of Leonardo's paintings ad nauseum while giving a competent, but relatively brief treatment of most of Leonardo's other accomplishments. He also indulges in rampant speculation (often of an absurd Freudian nature) regarding Leonardo's childhood, relationship with his parents, and alleged homosexuality. On occasion he even dismisses statements by Leonardo's acquaintances and contemporaries because they don't line up with his own pet theories...personally, I would think those sources should be taken more seriously than conjectures by later scholars, but that's just me. Overall: There is an amazing amount of detail in this book, but unless you are primarily interested in Leonardo da Vinci as a painter or in trying to deduce details of his family relationships through Freudian analysis, you might want to find a different biography.

  10. 5 out of 5

    M J James

    This is the first book I've read on DaVinci, but it was really well written. I learned a lot about him. This is the first book I've read on DaVinci, but it was really well written. I learned a lot about him.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This was an interesting book. The author presents Leonardo's life from a number of perspectives including his notebooks, his art, public documents, other people's biographies, etc. The reader is left with a patchwork vision of what Leonardo's life must have been. The author's technique reminded me of academic study regarding the historical Jesus, but the author doesn't give much in the way of formal explanation for how he evaluated the credibility of his various sources. It might be interesting This was an interesting book. The author presents Leonardo's life from a number of perspectives including his notebooks, his art, public documents, other people's biographies, etc. The reader is left with a patchwork vision of what Leonardo's life must have been. The author's technique reminded me of academic study regarding the historical Jesus, but the author doesn't give much in the way of formal explanation for how he evaluated the credibility of his various sources. It might be interesting to see the claims being made from the perspective of independent attestation, dissimilarity, contextual credibility, etc. At times, I felt like the author was choosing the "story" that he liked best without fully explaining why that was the most likely interpretation (even while he denigrates other authors for doing the same thing). In the end, I was left with a simpler view of Leonardo than I had expected. The book clearly documents the forays of Leonardo (back and forth between Florence and Milan, with various excursions to Rome and around Italy, finally ending up in Amboise, France, where he died) and his relationships (the patronage of the Medicis and various French political leaders, his casual acquaintance with Machiavelli and his rivalry with Michelangelo, his slowly acquired entourage of followers, students, and apprentices, etc.). It was informative, if not necessarily what I expected.

  12. 4 out of 5

    The Final Chapter

    High 3. Nicholls has painstakingly researched the minutiae of the note-books which constitute as much of the great Renaissance man’s legacy as do his magisterial works of art. As such, the author has provided valuable insights and theories on how both can proffer a more detailed picture of the man behind the myth. Thus, Nicholls explores signature works for any clues which they may hold relating to the attitudes and lifestyle of the artist. The reader is also given the most revealing interpretat High 3. Nicholls has painstakingly researched the minutiae of the note-books which constitute as much of the great Renaissance man’s legacy as do his magisterial works of art. As such, the author has provided valuable insights and theories on how both can proffer a more detailed picture of the man behind the myth. Thus, Nicholls explores signature works for any clues which they may hold relating to the attitudes and lifestyle of the artist. The reader is also given the most revealing interpretation of how the artist’s illegitimate roots may have coloured da Vinci’s visual interpretations and choices of subject. Similarly, the artist’s fascination with flight and nature is also persuasively dealt with. Yet, perhaps the biography’s greatest achievement is that, through poring over the multitude of interests which occupied da Vinci’s thoughts and made their way onto the pages of his Codex Atlanticus, the book offers the polymathic nature of the man as the answer to the riddle as to why an artist with so many unfinished pieces can retain such a prominence amongst the ranks of those heralded as the greatest artists of all time. This is an excellent biography, though at times it does become mired by the quantity of detail and the lengthy discussion of artistic technique.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    The biography is based on journals that Da Vinci kept, in addition to secondary sources of information. I found the inclusion of things like Leonardo's grocery list a little tedious at times, but I appreciate how much detail the author included for the reader's benefit. I started reading this book as most people would, from the beginning to the end, and ended up putting it back on the shelf for awhile. I picked it up again and skipped to the chapters I was most interested in and ended up reading The biography is based on journals that Da Vinci kept, in addition to secondary sources of information. I found the inclusion of things like Leonardo's grocery list a little tedious at times, but I appreciate how much detail the author included for the reader's benefit. I started reading this book as most people would, from the beginning to the end, and ended up putting it back on the shelf for awhile. I picked it up again and skipped to the chapters I was most interested in and ended up reading the remainder of the book out of sequence. It seems to work though because the author wrote chapters that can pretty much stand alone. The author's input about famous artists' biographers like Vasari was very interesting. He included so much detail and background so the reader could really get a full idea of what life was like in Renaissance Italy.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Vande

    For some reason I have recently been on a big Leonardo kick and I have read a few biographies. This one has been by far the best. It is scholarly and very well researched but is also very readable and rewarding. The author succeeds very well at creating a whole and believable person out of the myths and legends that surround a man like Leonardo. The book is filled with many drawings and painting details and contains a large section of color slides. This is really one of my favorite books now.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sunny

    What an incredible character and so multitalented. This biography of Leonardo charts his life and some of the key incidences of his childhood and career which painted him into the picture her was. The book goes into a lot of detail about some of the more political elements of his life which I found a little boring to be honest but I could also see how that added context to his paintings also. It describes some of the incredible subtleties in some of his greatest paintings which were very interes What an incredible character and so multitalented. This biography of Leonardo charts his life and some of the key incidences of his childhood and career which painted him into the picture her was. The book goes into a lot of detail about some of the more political elements of his life which I found a little boring to be honest but I could also see how that added context to his paintings also. It describes some of the incredible subtleties in some of his greatest paintings which were very interesting also. Certainly worth the read but I warn you that it is a detailed book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bryan

    I give it 5 stars for content, but 2 stars for presentation. I loved all the facts I learned about Da Vinci; he truly is a giant. However, the book is exhaustive in its presentation and is a slog to get through. That being said, every time you feel like tossing it against the wall out of boredom, you run into another interesting exploration of Da Vinci, such as the description of the Last Supper. It's the best reviewed of the Da Vinci biographies on Goodreads, so if you are in a Da Vinci frame o I give it 5 stars for content, but 2 stars for presentation. I loved all the facts I learned about Da Vinci; he truly is a giant. However, the book is exhaustive in its presentation and is a slog to get through. That being said, every time you feel like tossing it against the wall out of boredom, you run into another interesting exploration of Da Vinci, such as the description of the Last Supper. It's the best reviewed of the Da Vinci biographies on Goodreads, so if you are in a Da Vinci frame of mind, this is probably the best bet.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    For nine years this book has been on my nightstand. I started it, finally, in September. And only got 50 pages in...I just can't. For nine years this book has been on my nightstand. I started it, finally, in September. And only got 50 pages in...I just can't.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Historically excruciating detail down to a moving list with too much speculation by author -- otherwise an interesting account of the man known as Leonardo Da Vinci

  19. 5 out of 5

    Suz Archibald

    Honestly this book took ages to read, and whilst very well researched, it was pretty dry! The recent biographies I read about Amelia Earhart, and Elon Musk were much more engaging!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.

    As luck would have it, I was reading Charles Nicholl’s biography Leonardo da Vinci Flights of Mind concomitant with arranging for some landscaping work in our backyard. Since the older I get the less adept my mind becomes with multitasking, Leonardo and Vince from Yeoman Landscaping will now always be the same person in my mind. Let me tell you about Vince. He does great work, has unique ideas, and comes off as charismatic when you meet him. He assured me we were in good hands, the job was doabl As luck would have it, I was reading Charles Nicholl’s biography Leonardo da Vinci Flights of Mind concomitant with arranging for some landscaping work in our backyard. Since the older I get the less adept my mind becomes with multitasking, Leonardo and Vince from Yeoman Landscaping will now always be the same person in my mind. Let me tell you about Vince. He does great work, has unique ideas, and comes off as charismatic when you meet him. He assured me we were in good hands, the job was doable, and things will look fantastic, so I signed on the dotted line. Come the day work was to commence, Vince showed up slightly late with his crew. He had a foreman; let’s call him Salai for ease of reference. He also had a new trainee; let’s call him Melzi, again for ease of reference. Through the window I hear Vince addressing his crew. Seems the plan is for Salai to quickly teach Melzi how to use the power washer on the various surfaces to be spray cleaned that day. Meanwhile, Vince will head off to another job, probably in the Pope’s garden or something, and once Melzi masters the power washer, Salai too will wander off to join Vince, not before coveting my silverpoint pen and rose colored stockings, no doubt. That is exactly what ensued, well, except for the coveting part. Melzi did a more than capable job, and Vince did return later in the day to evaluate Melzi’s work and do some tweaks here and there. Next thing I knew I was writing Vince a big check. And no sooner were Vince and his retinue gone than I noticed some shortcomings in the job. For the most part things look great, but I can’t help feeling things would look even better had Vince given my project his undivided attention. Now I’m sitting here contemplating buyer’s remorse, a strangely smirkish smile on my face.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Informative, accessible, based on an immense amount of research, and despite its wealth of detail never overly dry - an interesting and comprehensive biography of an immensely fascinating figure. The only thing that bugged me on occasion was the author's tendency to repeat previously made statements and re-use quotes in several instances, though not to such extent that it impeded my enjoyment of the book. Informative, accessible, based on an immense amount of research, and despite its wealth of detail never overly dry - an interesting and comprehensive biography of an immensely fascinating figure. The only thing that bugged me on occasion was the author's tendency to repeat previously made statements and re-use quotes in several instances, though not to such extent that it impeded my enjoyment of the book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    E

    ""A deeply researched, engaging and illuminating biography ... masterfully woven together" - The Washington Post "Nicholl weaves a panoramic and richly covered tapestry of Leonardo's life and times" - Los Angeles Time Book Review "Revealing" - The Dallas Morning News "Copiously researched... A beautifully written masterful biography" - Kirkus Review "Highly rewarding" - San Jose Mercury News "Penetrating" - Publishers Weekly "Enthralling" - The Christian Science Monitor ""A deeply researched, engaging and illuminating biography ... masterfully woven together" - The Washington Post "Nicholl weaves a panoramic and richly covered tapestry of Leonardo's life and times" - Los Angeles Time Book Review "Revealing" - The Dallas Morning News "Copiously researched... A beautifully written masterful biography" - Kirkus Review "Highly rewarding" - San Jose Mercury News "Penetrating" - Publishers Weekly "Enthralling" - The Christian Science Monitor

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mini Roy

    This book was a thoroughly researched biography with a specific desire to understand Leonardo the man. Given the lack of documented history, speculation is inevitable and may conflict with the romantic view of Leonardo. Enjoyed the author’s thought process and narrative which challenged my assumptions

  24. 5 out of 5

    luis cornejo

    This is a superb biography of Leonardo. I’ve read for the last twenty years books and biographies about Leonardo’s life and ouvres and I must say this is one of the better accomplished. From lots of rare information about the master to an exquisite way of being written, I, as an artist and as a Leonardo’s long time enthusiast, highly recommend this work by mister Nicholls.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Asad

    Props to Charles Nichols for constructing a very very very very detailed biography on one of the greatest artists to ever have lived. I enjoyed skimming through to build a story that would be to my liking but for me it is too detailed . Historically and written accurately. Overall to detailed for me but Nichols has gathered amazing and extensive research.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeane

    Reading about Leonardo da Vinci's life is always so interesting and gives me a peaceful mindset. The writer did a really good job in not just writing done the information he found, but wondering if it was all true too. I had the feeling that he was telling me anecdotes of the period when Leonardo da Vinci was alive, like someone older would do thinking about memories he has. Reading about Leonardo da Vinci's life is always so interesting and gives me a peaceful mindset. The writer did a really good job in not just writing done the information he found, but wondering if it was all true too. I had the feeling that he was telling me anecdotes of the period when Leonardo da Vinci was alive, like someone older would do thinking about memories he has.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Matthews

    I was really surprised by this book. I was expecting something dry and dusty but it's eminently readable, very interesting and I actually feel like I've learned something. Admittedly more about the politics of Renaissance Italy, but it's still something. I was really surprised by this book. I was expecting something dry and dusty but it's eminently readable, very interesting and I actually feel like I've learned something. Admittedly more about the politics of Renaissance Italy, but it's still something.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gustav Gerät

    very good book, I like it

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Enjoyed the bits about the paintings, not about geneology.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    A superb book. Fascinating subject and an amazing weaving together of the very little evidence that survives, mixed with the exciting political history of te period in Florence, Milan and Rome.

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