Review | Notebooks – Leonardo da Vinci


Paperback (Oxford University Press, 392 pages)

First published 1939; this edition published 2008

Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars

“Most of what we know about Leonardo da Vinci, we know because of his notebooks. Some 6,000 sheets of notes and drawings survive, perhaps one-fifth of what he actually produced. With an artist’s eye and a scientist’s curiosity, he recorded in these pages his observations on the movement of water and the formation of rocks, the nature of flight and optics, anatomy, architecture, sculpture, and painting. He jotted down fables, epigrams, and letters and developed his belief in the sublime unity of nature and man. Through his notebooks we can get an insight into Leonardo’s thoughts, and his approach to work and life. This selection, organized in seven themed sections, offers a fascinating and informative sample of his writings. Fully updated, this new edition includes some 70 line drawings and a Preface by Martin Kemp, one of the world’s leading authorities on Leonardo, who explores the artist’s genius and the contents and legacy of his manuscripts.”

Holy gods. Read this. READ IT. Da Vinci was a bloody genius.

Given that Leonardo never had much of a formal education, and that his intelligence was borne out of observation and imagination, what this book contains is truly astonishing. It blurs what modernity would consider the lines between the arts and the sciences, but I don’t think that matters. What really matters is the hard evidence that a self-taught scientist figured out things that were taught to me in my science lessons at school. I’ll give you an example. The way light hits and enters the eye. Da Vinci drew a diagram of it and it is so accurate that I found myself staring. Six hundred years later and modern science is using just what Da Vinci figured out. Of course, science has existed for millennia; I’m not suggesting Da Vinci was the father of modern science. But it is wonderful, reading this and going ‘I learnt that in school! And he did it without modern technology or formal education!’

His musings on art are just as profound. What a truly remarkable man, and one who was far, far ahead of his time. Just imagine what he could be doing if he were alive today.

Please read this. I really urge you to. It is a fascinating read, and well worth your time.


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