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

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  698 ratings  ·  123 reviews
Toby Lester—the award-winning author of The Fourth Part of the World, celebrated by Simon Winchester as “a rare and masterly talent”—takes on one of the great untold stories in the history of ideas: the genesis of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.Everybody knows the picture: a man, meticulously rendered by Leonardo da Vinci, standing with arms and legs outstretched in a c ...more
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published February 7th 2012 by Free Press (first published May 27th 2011)
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A History of Thought

I’d always heard that the Dark Ages were a horrible era when the Bubonic Plague ran rampant, the Greco/Roman masters were ignored, and people lived short grubbing lives. In ‘Da Vinci’s Ghost” Toby Lester brings to light the succession of learning tracing it from the Greeks to the Romans and then threads it through to Medieval times and on to the Renaissance. He focuses on DaVinci but brings up many others, mostly unheard of to me, who kept the wisdom alive and added to it. Du
Jonathan Lopez
Albert Einstein wrote that the mind “always has tried to form for itself a simple and synoptic image of the surrounding world.” During the Renaissance, when the ancient Greek idea of man as the measure of all things leapt to the forefront of intellectual life, the human body became a preferred object for this type of “synoptic” speculation. In a widely read treatise titled “Divina Proportione” (1509), the Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli echoed fashionable opinions of the day by declaring that ...more
A remarkable book for its research and detail. I actually didn't realise there were differing ideas as to what Da Vinci's Created Man really was/is. To me I thought it was Da Vinci capturing man in motion, or rather the upper and lower limbs as the torso keeps in the same position. But there is so much more to the story than simply a drawing. Indeed it is well known that Da Vinci was a man of many interesting facets and he was many things in his time. It is also true that he was a man obsessed w ...more
Fred Forbes
You may not have known it was called the "Vitruvian Man" but you are doubtless familiar with the Da Vinci's drawing of the man with the intense stare in the circle and square - reproduced in posters, T-shirts, mugs, etc. This is the story of that drawing, inspired by architect Vitruvius, who proceeded him by hundreds of years with the publication of work of 10 volumes on architecture.He felt that the human body could be made to fit inside a circle, to express the divine, and a square, related to ...more
I listened to this, and that was good and bad. Good, because I didn't have to stumble over the Roman and Italian names...bad because there was elegant language I would have loved to linger over and think about. I cobbed a quote from another review: "Man is the model of the world." Leonardo created the perfect embodiment of that...

I don't know if the book itself has illustrations, and listening in the car I couldn't stop and google...which I did at home.

Ray Campbell
Apparently Da Vinci’s most famous drawing, Vitruvian Man, was an idea that was well known and employed by architects and artists during the Renaissance. Historian Toby Lester does a solid job of tracing the origin and application of the Platonic ideal of man prior to Da Vinci’s rendering of him. This book was not as exciting as the title nor was it what it purported to be - a study of Da Vinci’s legacy. Never the less, this was an interesting work. It is always fun to learn so much about a singl ...more
Not really sure there is the content here for a whole book, but it is a good light read for someone like me who is a history/science/philosophy nerd. It's interesting to know more about the concept of why Da Vinci would make that drawing, and the sources from which that inspiration came from. When I read about Da Vinci I always think about people I've know that are kind of like him, but how in this modern era it doesn't bespeak of greatness to be smart, have energy and yet not the discipline to ...more
Winter  Sophia Rose
Complex, Vivid & Intriguing! A Fascinating Read! I Enjoyed It!
Excellent read regarding Da Vinci during his youth as a young man, as well as how "Leonardo created the world in his own image," set during the dawn of the Roman imperial age. Vitruvius proposed that a man 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.
Well, Toby Lester certainly comes full circle in his telling of Leonardo Da Vinci's life in relation to the the Vetruvian Man, created in 25 BCE by Vetruvius, a Roman engineer, and a nexus of inspiration for Leonardo over 1500 years later. Lester's style of writing sweeps the reader through the centuries as he traces the quest for understanding ourselves, our god(s), our earthly geography through the "analogy of man" as microcosm. What one comes away with is that Leonardo drew his inspiration fr ...more
Charlie Weiss
I happened to like this book a lot because Leonardo just fascinates me to no end, but it was a tad to drawn out, hence the 4 stars.
Oh, and BTW if you're looking for a conspiracy theory book like The DaVinci Code etc, this isn't your book. This is just regular, fascinating, TRUE historical fact. OK, and a little conjecture here and there. But no Dan Brown sensationalism here.
Suprisingly a very quick read I actually enjoyed it and would recommend it to someone interested in Da Vinci's works. The book really focused on his discoveries more than his life but was a quite interesting read and went into a good detail about the golden ratios and how Da Vinci equated everything to the human body (in structure mainly). For example he equated the build of the columns of a building with the side profile of a man. However I did find it interesting that he seemed to only study m ...more
Through one of Leonardo Da Vinci's most famous images, “Vitruvian Man,” Toby Lester gives us a view into the mind of this great artist and profound thinker, whose prodigious notebooks overflow with ideas. Spanning research on history, art, astronomy, geometry, geography and religion, Lester uses "Vitruvian Man" to reveal the landscape of human thought and achievement blossoming during Da Vinci's time, and to reveal Da Vinci's deeper nature -- driven, voraciously intelligent and compulsively curi ...more
Rex Fuller
This is a magnificent contribution to the Da Vinci literature. A fascinating look at the Vitruvian Man (naked man in a circle and square or naked man doing jumping jacks) drawing by Leonardo in 1490, written in a completely accessible style, covering the roots of the knowledge it encompasses and the importance of those ideas throughout history from time of Christ until The Genius produced his unique and improved version. The book also conveys very interesting anecdotes about Da Vinci, only one o ...more
Although Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man is an iconic image, few know the story behind the image. Toby Lester not only tells the story of the image, but also presents the cultural backdrop that led to its creation. His prose is careful and readable, free of academic jargon. He makes his topic approachable rather than placing it on a pedestal. In some parts of the book, it's almost as if you are beside Lester in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, looking at Da Vinci's sketches. Rather than being an ...more
Alex Binkley
The story of the Vitruvian Man is a most fascinating account of Leonardo Da Vinci, but also the time he lived in as mankind tried to come to grips with reality rather than just accepting myths. The author does a superb job of explaining 15th Century job and setting Da Vinci and his colleagues in it. I learned a great deal and intend to read the book again to better understand this pivotal period in human advancement. The author does an admirable job of keeping his story entertaining when it coul ...more
This book is history as story. insightful, good narration but the biography concludes with the vitruvious man.
Dan Dundon
Having recently visited Florence I was motivated to learn more about Leonardo da Vinci so I read "Da Vinci's Ghost" by Toby Lester. The author does a nice job of drawing readers into the book but seems to lose focus somewhat as he reaches far back into Greek and Roman history. Of course, this is needed to depict the history of the Vitruvian Man but the lengths Lester goes to describe such things as the rule of Caesar Augustus left me impatient to get back to the main story - Da Vinci. I found my ...more
Michael Johnston
I gave this book 4 stars. Truthfully, it's at least 4 1/2 stars and a good case can be made that this is a five star book. It's a brilliant work. Not brilliant in the way that The Great Gatsby or Ragtime are great works of art or in the way that Einstein's Theory of General and Special Relativity is a work of monumental genius. Instead, it is brilliant in its structure, it's simplicity, its elegant thinking and it's writing. Lester doesn't try to find the unified theory of everything (as seems t ...more
Daniel Harris
It is my belief that anyone who considers themselves an artist (on any level or in any form) should give this book a read.
Kathy Martin
I have always been fascinated with Leonardo Da Vinci. Teaching my fifth graders about the history of science increased my fascination, as did reading Leonardo Da Vinci by Kathleen Krull. When I saw this audiobook in Tantor's Bargain Bin, I had to buy it. It was lucky I had the audio version because the amount of detail would have defeated me in a print book. This book is a very scholarly study of the varied and various influences that led Da Vinci to create the drawing we know as Vitruvian Man.

Madeline  Ezell
Intriguing, particularly from an Art History stance. I was shocked at the idea of Humans being the one being in which Heaven and Earth collide. What a display of the gospel... I enjoyed the way this book made me think: think about the center of the body as the navel or pelvis and how that corresponds to Heaven or Earth. I liked the incorporation of the Divine and the influence of different artists and medieval scholars on the development of the Vitruvian Man. This book sparked different thoughts ...more
Bill Glover
Lester seeks to connect, as firmly as possible, Da Vinci to Vitruvius (1st century B.C. architect and author of De Architectura) and his ideas on proportion. The enduring idea is that man can be used as a blueprint toward understanding the nature of all things through proportions. Not hard to understand in the days when the Sun still went around the Earth.
In a turn that would make Malcolm Gladwell proud, Lester traces the evolution of Da Vinci's thoughts and experiences (his exposure to books an
Da Vinci, in his drawing, “Vitruvian Man,” gives his answer to the question, “What is Man?” He combined his artistic talent and visual way of thinking into a drawing that embodies the Renaissance-recovered Classical concept of man as a microcosm of the universe. By setting the drawing of a man with outstretched arms into a square superimposed on a circle, he connected man with the earth(square) and the universe(circle). By making the man’s proportions those that he had measured, he broke new gro ...more
Charity Troy
This book explores the creation of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man all the way back to the man who originally thought of the image, a Roman engineer named Vitruvius, and the fact that this image represents the idea that man is a microcosm of the universe. Vitruvius man wrote the Ten Books on Architecture during Augustus's reign. The author begins the story with a journey between Leonardo and another architect, who was translating Vitruvius. Then the author cuts to Vitruvius's life in Ancient Roman Emp ...more
Jason Golomb
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 “Vitruv
Few mortals have captured the imagination of so many as has Leonardo Da Vinci.

We tend to see him as the ultimate genius of the Renaissance period. Yet, as Toby Lester reminds us here, he was a man of remarkable imagination who was self-educated, unable to retain full-time employment because he failed to meet deadlines and was prone to go off in search of new projects while leaving current ones uncompleted.

That said, it does not diminish the wealth of his accomplishments. It simply makes him more
Daniel Lowrey
"Da Vinci's Ghost" is about Leonardo Da Vinci's road, philosophies, and steps to making one of his famous pieces of work, "Vitruvian Man". Author Toby Lester went deep into Leonardo's journey to discovering the "Vitruvian Man". This author went into his early days when he first started drawing and painting. "Da Vinci's Ghost" also went into detail about some ancient figures that claim to have either seen, or have connected to the creation of the famous picture, along with the ancient "Ten Book" ...more
Toby Lester has created a delightful, compressed pearl of a book to give a flavor of the genius, Da Vinci. In this story of da Vinci's Vetruvian Man, I now have a better understanding of this symbolic drawing of a man within a circle (long associated with the divine) and square (related to earthly and secular).
Well-documented, it includes the visionary mystic Hildegard of Bingen, Brunelleschi,
Leonardo's ideas on building, and an abc of proportions. You can see how Lester weaves history, art, e
Ben Campbell
To quote Toby Lester, Leonardo da Vinci..."the man himself died centuries ago, but his ghost-timeless, watchful, and restless-remains unmistakably alive." That is my review of Da Vinci's Ghost: The Untold Story of the World's Most Famous Drawing.

This isn't just a history lesion, Lester draws pictures with his words of what possibly da Vinci's emotions were like, how he lived, what types of friends he made. He envisions images of de Vinci's travels, contractual obligations, political and religiou
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I'm a journalist, an editor, and an independent scholar. Most recently, I'm the author of Da Vinci's Ghost (2012), about Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, and The Fourth Part of the World (2009), about the map that gave America its name. I'm also a longtime contributor to The Atlantic, for whom I've written extensively, on such topics as the reconstruction of ancient Greek music, the revisionist ...more
More about Toby Lester...
The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name

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