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

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3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  553 ratings  ·  102 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 November 10th 2011)
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Cynthia
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...more
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
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
Claudia
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...

http://leonardodavinci.stanford.edu/s...

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.

Ve...more
Loraine
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
Tsclif
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
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
W.
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
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
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.

L...more
Bill
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 “Vitru...more
J.R.
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...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
Kitty
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...more
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...more
Kevin Kizer
This book shows how da Vinci created the famous drawing which he didn't pull out of thin air.The idea of a man inside a circle and square was proposed by the Roman architect Vitruvius before it was given form by da Vinci and finally proven definitively by the Hollywood Squares.
Back in the day, the circle was related to all things divine while the square related to all things worldly. To place a man inside those shapes was to imply that the human body was the world in miniature. In da Vinci’s mi...more
Joan
Not having had much of an interest in history the majority of my life, I found this account of Da Vinci's life (and the times before and after) enlightening and astonishing. The idea of man as a microcosm and the time spent by so many trying to capture that idea in some form seems, now, inconsequential. However, at the time it was obviously a popular and labor worthy theory of exploration.
I felt I learned a great deal from reading this book. I appreciated reading about the other masters and the...more
Jeff Raymond
Random thoughts on Da Vinci's Ghost, a book about the creation of the Vitruvian Man, the iconic image created by Leonardo da Vinci and replicated on pretty much everything :

* I don't know nearly enough about Leonardo da Vinci. I know basics, but felt somewhat lost with a lot of what was going on here.

* With that said, this is surprisingly informative and appears to be well-researched for a book that reads as if it has a general audience in mind, so that was good.

Really, I'm always happy to have...more
Elizabeth
A review through notes. (I'm too lazy to form paragraphs.)

A good little book about the history of an iconic image.

If you are looking for a biography of Leonardo, look elsewhere. That isn't what this book is, or purports to be.

DaVinci's Ghost pairs well with "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern," with Lester's work serving as the appetizer to Greenblatt's more substantial text. I intend to re-read both in succession, someday.

This book inspired a conversation about the American focus on career...more
Melissa
Gives a background of Leonardo da Vinci's iconic Vitruvian Man drawing (the guy with four arms and four legs), going back to Ancient Greece and Rome, through Leonardo's time and his interests. Very readable and interesting.
Owen
I found this book immensely interesting. Lester chronicles the life of Da Vinci up to the point of him drawing his iconic Vitruvian Man--however, this chronicling requires a brief but interesting tour through medieval medical and architectural philosophy, which aren't as disparate as you might think.

The most surprising aspect of this book for me was that my idea of Da Vinci as a wildly successful renaissance man--a renaissance rock star, if you will--is not at all true. His early life outlined...more
Harry Lane
Someone subtitled this book "Genius, Obsession, and how Leonardo Created the World in his own Image." This is overblown. The book is moderately interesting, dealing as it does with a period when most anyone could reasonably be expert in a number of fields. There is considerable attention given to the interplay between theology, art, science and engineering. Leonardo's biographical material is scanty, deliberately, as the author's intent is to lead from the general of both the milleu of the times...more
Irene
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
H Wesselius
I was hoping for something similar to Greenblatt's The Swerve, in which the Renaissance is recounted with a focus on a singular document. Unfortunately, that was not the case here. Lester traces the origin of the drawing and the concept behind back to the ancient era but in tracing the intellectual history and then the context of the drawing the reader is subjected to a confusing stream of disjointed parts with no coherent focus. In addition there is far too much conjecture and supposition for t...more
Theresa
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
Marylu Sanok
This book was full of wonder and the imagination of Da Vinci. I have watched the TV show, while it is fiction and very sexual in areas, it sparked an interest in his life and work. The man was amazing in how his thoughts led to actual design. It is if he saw it in his mind complete and then proceeded to make it. His painting, sculpture, weapons showed such a range of thoughts that is seemed that his brain should just explode.

Florence produced soo many wonderful artists that I wonder if it was na...more
Becki Iverson
This book's saving grace is its subject. It's almost impossible to screw up a story involving Leonardo DaVinci, as he is so incredibly fascinating - regardless of your opinions on his art, he had skills and interests of such breadth that he investigated something for anyone's interest.

This is a solid book, but I had a hard time finding the magic in it. Lester gets so caught up in providing context for the Vitruvian man that he looses the wonder that comes with DaVinci. It's not a must-read, but...more
Jean-Paul Adriaansen
When Leonardo Da Vinci drew “The Vitruvius Man,” the man in the circle and the square, he probably wouldn’t have imagined that this would be the most printed picture ever.
Toby Lester tells us the story of how this picture came to be, resurrecting it from the Roman empire through the middle ages to the Renaissance.
Lester brings to us the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci as he explains the extraordinary ways Da Vinci was deeply exploring and investigating everything that came to his mind.
Very interesti...more
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2568713
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 Da Vinci's Ghost The Fourth Part of the World: An Astonishing Epic of Global Discovery, Imperial Ambition, and the Birth of America The Fourth Part of the World: The Epic Story of History's Greatest Map Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image

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