Leonardo da Vinci is a well-written biography. What I admire the most is its structure that is organized chronologically from Leonardo’s birth to his death. It is however not a dry list of his activities during this specific period. Isaacson tries to convey specific areas of interest Leonardo had at the given time. This approach allows you to understand at the same time how Leonardo aged and how his ideas and attitude changed. It showed how every field of his study allowed him to be better at something completely different.
Sad thing is that Leonardo kept his ideas almost exclusively in his diaries. He often wasn’t able to finish and publish his scientific work. It is a shame because it would made him a acknowledged genius outside of art much sooner.
Leonardo’s attitude to work is still worthy for us to learn from. He avoided studying old knowledge and instead tried to research everything by himself. His attention skill allowed him to uncover hidden secrets of many things while keeping him from falling into trap of wrong common beliefs. He has written every useful information he found out into his diaries so he could look into it later (or atleast we can).
And, last but not least, his known characteristics was not finishing his masterpieces. He kept them close and improved them over time as he was learning. For him, a masterpiece was never finished. It was rather continuous strive for perfection he dreamed of—and how it usually is—never achieved in his own mind. Shouldn’t we all strive for a little bit of perfection?
At first Leonardo’s procrastination led to amusing tales, such as the time the church prior became frustrated and complained to Ludovico. “He wanted him never to lay down his brush, as if he were a laborer hoeing the Prior’s garden,” Vasari wrote. When Leonardo was summoned by the duke, they ended up having a discussion of how creativity occurs. Sometimes it requires going slowly, pausing, even procrastinating. That allows ideas to marinate, Leonardo explained. Intuition needs nurturing. “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least,” he told the duke, “for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterward give form.”
Leonardo added that there were two heads left to paint: that of Christ and of Judas. He was having trouble finding a model for Judas, he said, but he would use the image of the prior if he insisted on continuing to hound him.
I read this book in 2019 and rated it 5/5 stars.