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

3.62  ·  Rating Details  ·  819 Ratings  ·  141 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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Feb 29, 2012 Cynthia rated it really liked it
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
Jul 01, 2015 Yasmin rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 07, 2014 Fred Forbes rated it it was ok
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
Feb 21, 2012 Ray Campbell rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2012
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
Mar 08, 2012 Tsclif rated it it was ok
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
Jul 05, 2015 Winter Sophia Rose rated it it was amazing
Complex, Vivid & Intriguing! A Fascinating Read! I Enjoyed It!
Apr 07, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mel Bossa
Sep 22, 2015 Mel Bossa rated it really liked it
Shelves: 0007-history
Engrossing tale tracing the history of Da Vinci's drawing, the Vitruvian Man. Short, simple, but well researched and detailed. I enjoyed it. It was a good introduction to Florentine and Milanese architecture during the Renaissance period and especially the origin of their influences, starting with the Roman Emperor Augustus and his ideology which spawned this quest to capture the ideal human form in a statue of himself that in turn represented the perfect world and its dimensions on which all ar ...more
Jul 18, 2012 Loraine rated it really liked it
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
Jan 20, 2015 Charlie Weiss rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
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.
Jul 24, 2012 Irene rated it liked it
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
Jul 24, 2012 Theresa rated it really liked it
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
Apr 26, 2013 Rex Fuller rated it really liked it
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
Dec 16, 2011 W. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 06, 2013 Alex Binkley rated it really liked it
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
Aug 12, 2014 Shahryar rated it liked it
This book is history as story. insightful, good narration but the biography concludes with the vitruvious man.
Jock Mcclees
Sep 07, 2015 Jock Mcclees rated it really liked it
This book will probably not be what you expect unless you read some of these reviews. It focuses on the drawing by DaVinci called Vitruvian Man. It turns out the concept goes back to Roman times. What is fascinating is how people thought back then. They saw the human body as perfection and being in God's image. They took meaning from different measurements of the human body. It is no accident that modern measures (other than the metric system) derived from the body. Not just because it was conve ...more
Dan Dundon
May 05, 2015 Dan Dundon rated it liked it
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
Apr 02, 2014 Michael Johnston rated it really liked it
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
This book had so much detail about the history and life of not only Leonardo but many other people in that era. It was as if the author personally went back in time and wrote everything down first-hand. Very well done.

It's interesting how many of the artists and arts people were more gay at that time because of infatuation with the human body (The Vitruvian Man) and also by only associating with males. Seems to me like Society influences one's Beepual Orientation. Similarly to how there are a l
May 03, 2016 Correen rated it really liked it
Vitruvian Man (circa 1490,) now an iconic figure of Leonardo da Vinci's work has become a fascination for many of us. Leonardo was interested in the concept of a man's body being the microcosm of the world. Thus, the figure of Vitruvian Man with it's symbolic though not accurately drawn to the scale he describes, presents a measurement of parts to the whole and a relationship to geometry of perfection. The drawing honors and describes the work of Vitruvius.

Lester discusses the work, its history,
Dan Harris
Sep 01, 2014 Dan Harris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Dec 30, 2013 Kathy Martin rated it really liked it
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.

Leila Mota
Jun 19, 2016 Leila Mota rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gostei muito de fazer esse percurso pela história do desenho do 'Homem Vitruviano' e aprender um pouco mais sobre Leonardo da Vinci. Ambos se tornaram tão conhecidos que o desenho se associa a Leonardo sem que nós, pessoas comuns, vamos mais além dessa informação; e de Leonardo eu conheço algumas obras, entre pinturas e invenções brilhantes. Mas como diz o autor, guardamos a imagem do artista já em sua fase de maturidade, em seus últimos anos mesmo. Acompanhá-lo, ainda que brevemente, desde o na ...more
Jun 05, 2015 madeline rated it liked it
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
Apr 16, 2014 Bill Glover rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 23, 2013 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Apr 25, 2012 Charity Troy rated it really liked it
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
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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
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“A good painter has two chief objects to paint: man and the intention of his soul. The former is easy, the latter hard. —Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1490)” 0 likes
“Vitruvius didn’t conjure up Vitruvian Man only as an abstraction. He also wanted his readers to associate the figure directly with a specific person: the august ruler who had just begun to build a body of empire in his own perfect image, and whose ideal form was embodied in all temples. Vitruvian Man, in other words, was none other than the figure to whom Vitruvius dedicated his Ten Books: Caesar Augustus himself.” 0 likes
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