Customer Reviews for

Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image

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  • Posted March 8, 2012

    Highly recommended.

    I have always enjoyed reading about the history of ideas and their power as it waxes and wanes over time. This book fell easily into that sweet spot for me. Well written and with enough personal touches to keep it from being dry, this work traces the lineage of the idea of man as the measure of all things and his relationship to the divine.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Good History and Analysis of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man The drawi

    Good History and Analysis of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man The drawing is
    well known, if not universally recognized (and I mean universal in the
    literal sense). Leonardo DaVinci’s print of the human male figure, arms
    and legs outstretched, touching both a square and a circle drawn within
    the square, can be found on t-shirts and mousepads, corporate logos, as
    well as parodies including The Simpsons. It’s on the €1 Euro coin, but
    perhaps most impressively, it’s been launced into space on several long
    distance and very long term missions. It’s called “Vitruvian Man”, and
    among Leonardo’s eclectically vast tableau of work it remains one of his
    most enigmatic pieces. Author Toby Lester delves deeply into this single
    DaVinci masterpiece to expose its roots, its meanings and its lasting
    impressions. Lester provides insight into the genesis of this work
    which currently resides at the Accademia Gallery in Venice, though it’s
    not currently on display. The name comes from the ancient Roman
    architect Vitruvius: “Writing at the dawn of the Roman imperial age,
    Virtuvius proposed that a man can be made to fit inside a circle and a
    square, and some fifteen hundred years later Leonardo gave that idea
    memorable visual form. But there’s much more to the story than that.
    Vitruvius had described his figure in an architectural context,
    insisting that the proportions of sacred temples should conform to the
    proportions of the idea human body – the design of which, he believed,
    conformed to the hidden geometry of the universe.” Lester identifies
    some seriously heavy metaphysical connotations of the drawing as well,
    and the concept that it engenders. “The circle represented the cosmic
    and the divine; the square represented the earthly and the secular.
    Anybody proposing that a man could be made to fit inside both shapes was
    therefore making an age-old metaphysical statement. It was the world, in
    miniature.” He continues, “It’s an idealized self-portrait in which
    Leonardo, stripped down to his essence, takes his own measure, and in
    doing so embodies a timeless human hope: that we must might have the
    power of mind to figure out how we fit into the grand scheme of things.”
    Leonardo’s Virtuvian Man is estimated to be drawn in about 1490, but
    it’s just a guess since he didn’t date the work. The timing fits in with
    the style of draftsmanship, kinds of paper and pen he used, and even his
    handwriting of the time. Most importantly, it would place the work
    during “the very period in his career when he was immersed in his
    intensive study of human proportions and had a special interest in
    comparing his own measurements to those listed in Virtruvius’
    work," wrote Lester. Leonardo spent many years examining the human
    body in great detail, and he left numerous drawings based on his
    first-hand anatomical dissections. He started to make specific
    connections between the human body and architecture, which one can see
    creep into his notebook doodlings in the 1480s. Vitruvius provided
    specific measurements of the idealized male form and these measurements
    act as a starting point for Leonardo’s work. Leonardo expands and
    improves upon the original description. Lester writes that DaVinci
    “corrected previous interpretations of an ancient text…to capture the
    essential message of (Vitruvius): that the human form embodied the
    natural harmonies present in the circle and the square.” And the face
    upon the Vitruvian man is likely Leonardo’s self-portrait as well. The
    book includes detailed notes and a plethora of images, taking advantage,
    in the digital form, to link seamlessly back and forth from the various
    reference points within the ebook edition. Lester’s book is a good
    read. It’s most successful, in my opinion, in its details surrounding
    Leonardo the man, his motivations, and the outline of his career. It
    fails, however, in its dubious connections presumed by author Lester,
    based upon an unfortunately incomplete record and circumstantial
    evidence. Leonardo spent some time with individuals that had their own
    connections with Vitruvius' work, and he had access to many historical
    works with various ties to the ancient work as well. Lester sometimes
    acknowledges that it’s “impossible to say”, for example, how much of
    certain concepts Leonardo was able to absorb by reading, but too often
    relies on ideas that Leonardo 'must have' read this, or 'likely' spoke
    to someone about that. I enjoyed this book. Lester does a nice job
    writing readable history. The concepts are, at times, tough to wrap ones
    arms around, and Lester does well in providing just enough background
    and context to make things attainable.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2012

    awesome

    toby lester is a genius

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013

    To

    You

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 10, 2012

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    Posted April 5, 2012

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    Posted March 9, 2012

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