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Leonardo Da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating Details  ·  885 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
Leonardo is the greatest, most multi-faceted and most mysterious of all Renaissance artists, but extraordinarily, considering his enormous reputation, this is the first full-length biography in English for several decades. Prize-winning author Charles Nicholl has immersed himself in manuscripts, paintings and artefacts to produce an intimate portrait of Leonardo. He uses t ...more
Paperback, 622 pages
Published August 31st 2011 by Penguin Books (first published 2004)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,967)
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Eddie Watkins
Oct 08, 2014 Eddie Watkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
To write a biography of Leonardo that does not make the reader feel uselessly unaccomplished and inadequate, or dewy eyed with adoration, is quite a feat. Of course Leonardo considered himself something of a failure, but that’s just poppycock on his part; though it is worth pondering why he was so unsatisfied with his countless accomplishments, just as it is to ask why Thomas Aquinas near the end of his life considered all his writings to be so much straw.*

This is a portrait in the Leonardo man
Andreas Fetz
May 07, 2012 Andreas Fetz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really loved this. I can't imagine there being a more exhaustive book on da Vinci. Nicholl goes over all that is known about his life and works and while managing to give all the facts, also indulges in a lot of "what if's" and context, all of which brings what could otherwise be an overly dry and academic book to life. The world that he lived in is vividly described and the broader cultural and political movements are all given full consideration. And where gaps in the knowledge exist, he gives ...more
Ryan Vande
Feb 19, 2008 Ryan Vande rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
For some reason I have recently been on a big Leonardo kick and I have read a few biographies. This one has been by far the best. It is scholarly and very well researched but is also very readable and rewarding. The author succeeds very well at creating a whole and believable person out of the myths and legends that surround a man like Leonardo. The book is filled with many drawings and painting details and contains a large section of color slides. This is really one of my favorite books now.
May 17, 2008 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book I've read on DaVinci, but it was really well written. I learned a lot about him.
Leonardo da Vinci was truly a fascinating man and this book does an excellent job of highlighting his unique brilliance. In an age of the Renaissance man, da Vinci managed to stand out, not an easy thing to do among the other famous men of his day: Michelango, Raphael, Bramante, Cesare Borgia, three different popes, etc. He lived through tumultuous times with the exile of the Medici and Sforza in Florence and Milan, respectively, and then their return years later. The French and the young violen ...more
Apr 04, 2011 Meredith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The biography is based on journals that Da Vinci kept, in addition to secondary sources of information. I found the inclusion of things like Leonardo's grocery list a little tedious at times, but I appreciate how much detail the author included for the reader's benefit.

I started reading this book as most people would, from the beginning to the end, and ended up putting it back on the shelf for awhile. I picked it up again and skipped to the chapters I was most interested in and ended up reading
Jun 24, 2015 Sunny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
What an incredible character and so multitalented. This biography of Leonardo charts his life and some of the key incidences of his childhood and career which painted him into the picture her was. The book goes into a lot of detail about some of the more political elements of his life which I found a little boring to be honest but I could also see how that added context to his paintings also. It describes some of the incredible subtleties in some of his greatest paintings which were very interes ...more
Joel Mitchell
It was a bit of a slog to make it through this biography. The overall outline of Leonardo's life and works was interesting, and I appreciate the author's frequent citations of contemporary sources, but I was less than impressed with how he went about interpreting the sources and filling in the details.

The author was definitely most interested in Leonardo Da Vinci as a painter. He speculates about the origins, possible models, and hidden meanings of Leonardo's paintings ad nauseum while giving a
William Schram
I learned a lot of things that I did not know about Leonardo da Vinci. This book is quite scholarly and very well written. It has two sections that include his paintings in glossy paper and many more drawings and works strewn throughout the book.

I was not aware of his personal failings. Mostly he was bad with money and bad with completing projects on time. Even through all that he was much admired in his time; although the Mona Lisa didn't become super famous until someone stole it back in 1911
Dec 10, 2015 elchrys rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Leonardo da Vinci’s biography with a very detailed description of his work. A stream of citations and details that mostly, if not only, concern those who want to study da Vinci in detail rather than read about him. Several published reviews claimed that this is an easy book to read, while in fact it is anything but. I’d recommend it to students and teachers who deal with the subject and da Vinci’s era but not ‘amateur’ da Vinci readers.
Jul 08, 2007 Lois rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know about Da Vinci
Shelves: lobagsbooks
After I came back from Italy I became obssessed with anything to do with Leonardo Da Vinci. On my bookshelf I must have 10 or so books about him. This is my least favorite book as it is not a true picture of the man as a whole. This book only deals with his life in art, not in technology, religion of the mysteries surrounding his involvement in the Iluminati. I can recommend better books.
Paul Ducard
"The great lesson of [Leonardo's] manuscripts is that everything is to be questioned, investigated, peered into, worried away at, brought back to first principles."

"Leonardo was...'the most relentlessly curious man in history'."

"The proper way to experience alone. 'While you are alone your are entirely your own; and if you have but one companion you are but half your own.'"

"'Those who take for their standard anything but Nature, the mistress of all masters, weary themselves in vain.'
Mar 06, 2016 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yep, it's my second Leonardo bio in the last few weeks. I found them in two separate thrift stores on the same day a little while back, so I figured that was a sign of something. It's amazing how different Nicholl's book is from the Serge Bramly bio I read first. Nicholl focuses intently on what is known about Leonardo, and only sketches the political world around him which so strongly affected his life. He tells the story in chronological order, and paints a more rounded portrait of this astoun ...more
Craig Williams
Aug 02, 2015 Craig Williams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Leonardo da Vinci is one of those figures from history it's easy to take for granted. His work, or pieces inspired by his work, is so ubiquitous and there's a reason for it: the man was a goddamn genius. I know, you're thinking: "Yeah, I know that." Do you though??? I thought *I* knew, until I read this book and learned the scale of how brilliant da Vinci was. For one, the man invented robots... yes, Middle Age robots. More specifically, he created a robot knight and a robot lion, which were mor ...more
Nov 21, 2015 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book. The author presents Leonardo's life from a number of perspectives including his notebooks, his art, public documents, other people's biographies, etc. The reader is left with a patchwork vision of what Leonardo's life must have been. The author's technique reminded me of academic study regarding the historical Jesus, but the author doesn't give much in the way of formal explanation for how he evaluated the credibility of his various sources. It might be interesting ...more
Nov 28, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
What is there left to say about Leonardo da Vinci? He is one of those figures from history about whom little more can be found, another Rasputin or Roman Emperor, and yet the words keep flowing, the books keep appearing.

In fairness to Charles Nicholl, he may not have unearthed any revelationary ‘with new evidence from recently opened archives’ material (the timeless justification for another biography of Josef Stalin), but he does pull everything that is known together with a rare clarity and di
Aug 04, 2015 Bugenhagen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I spent a lot of time with this biography, reading one short chapter or two at a time, sipping it like a fine Tuscan wine. I'm not proud of that analogy, but I'm sticking with it. That might have turned out to be the best possible way to read it, a little at a time without getting bogged down in too many small details; trust me, there are a lot. Nicholl makes constant references to Leonardo's abundant notebooks, trying to find traces of the man, his character, and his life to go along with all o ...more
Aug 14, 2015 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
High 3. Nicholls has painstakingly researched the minutiae of the note-books which constitute as much of the great Renaissance man’s legacy as do his magisterial works of art. As such, the author has provided valuable insights and theories on how both can proffer a more detailed picture of the man behind the myth. Thus, Nicholls explores signature works for any clues which they may hold relating to the attitudes and lifestyle of the artist. The reader is also given the most revealing interpretat ...more
I give it 5 stars for content, but 2 stars for presentation. I loved all the facts I learned about Da Vinci; he truly is a giant. However, the book is exhaustive in its presentation and is a slog to get through. That being said, every time you feel like tossing it against the wall out of boredom, you run into another interesting exploration of Da Vinci, such as the description of the Last Supper. It's the best reviewed of the Da Vinci biographies on Goodreads, so if you are in a Da Vinci frame o ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Forget Dan Brown's fictional Da Vinci Code (**** May/June 2003); here's the real deal. Award-winning author Nicholl draws on Leonardo's notebooks to delve deep inside the mind of the beloved Renaissance icon. Celebrating Leonardo's life and projects with contagious excitement and putting his achievements in the context of the Italian Renaissance as a whole, Nicholl considers Leonardo's inspirations and influences. If we learn little new about Leonardo's most famous works or his competition with

Jan 11, 2013 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is said the Mona Lisa is the world's most recognizable painting but there is much about it we don't know. Da Vinci was one of the greatest minds we've known but few know much at all about the man. Nichols combines first hand accounts, public records, etc to provide a closer look into the daily life of Leonardo from birth to death. He even has the steadfastness to leave blank spots blank and not feel the historian need to know everything, which since full knowledge is never possible some fill ...more
Oct 27, 2013 Rami rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book portrays Leonardo as a man more than an icon. The author goes into great depths to describe every move and every action Leonardo made as well as Italian and French history from the Renaissance. As a reader not well read in history for this part of the world many parts of the book just went by me.

Overall this book is great for an earnest and detailed view of Leonardo's life. For some, like myself, it was a little too detailed however the image you get of Leonardo is one that seems the m
Aug 07, 2015 ToTo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a historical book. Every other sentence holds information directly from a source. It's amazingly crafted, and impressive from an academic standpoint. Somehow, you really get a sense of Da Vinci, the human being.
Donald Nadreau
Nov 05, 2014 Donald Nadreau rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent research and detail about Leonardo. It is somewhat of a difficult read, very detailed. All in all I enjoyed it, even though it took me a while to finish. It gives some insight into a time when many famous people interacted. Leonardo knows people such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, the Medici, the French kings Louis XII and Francois I, and several Popes. It is a fascinating period in history and this comes out in the biography. Da Vinci is interesting in all the areas he delved into, inc ...more
Alana White
Although I enjoyed this book overall, my pleasure was dimmed by one glaring error on the part of the author, or his editor(s), perhaps. This happened when the text referred to "Matteo" Vespucci as the husband of Simonetta Vespucci (the famous, fetching blond of Botticelli's "Venus"). The fellow in question was named Marco Vespucci. One wonders how, after all Nicholl's research (he is a prize-winning author of many books of history, biography, and travel), something like this could happen. Errors ...more
Tom Newth
Aug 28, 2015 Tom Newth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i do think this might be the best biography i ever read - impeccable research, balance, and judgement. and obviously, what a subject..
Oct 10, 2015 Drake30 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
las buenas biografías son un fresco de una época, y este libro lo cumple.
Jan 18, 2016 JLeigh marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Jon Brooks
Apr 05, 2014 Jon Brooks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Flights of the mind is an incredible well researched book. We get to know Leonardo through his environment. The politics, the friends, the florentine society etc. My only problem with this is that it felt almost too in depth and hard to understand all of the Italian names and places. Because of this I would recommend that anyone interested in learning about Leonardo, read Serge Bramly's book first to get to know the man. And this second, to get to know the world in which he lived.
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