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Leonardo Da Vinci - the First Scientist

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  674 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Celebrated as a painter and engineer during his lifetime, Leonardo da Vinci was the very embodiment of the Renaissance Man. But few guessed at the extent of his scientific investigations and experiments. In a vast collection of notebooks (over 5,000 pages), Leonardo meticulously detailed his research on optics, mechanics, astronomy, and anatomy. He kept his findings hidden ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 1st 2005 by Little, Brown Book Group (first published 2000)
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Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe the title of “The First Scientist” is not the suitable one for this kind of essay. The author even had to acknowledge that fact. This is more about Leonardo the artist or even Leonardo the engineer, not Leonardo the scientist, (Well, maybe a little bit in the final chapters). That said, I found this work interesting enough, with several good illustrations and also footnotes including personal opinions. But I’m sure I have read better biographies along the way, including Giorgio Vasari’s fi ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I’ve found myself quite enjoying White’s biographies, and this is no exception. I think it’s difficult to argue that da Vinci wasn’t a scientist, when you look at the kinds of things he was interested in and the methodical way he went about it, including (as White points out) using the scientific method. I have to confess I picked up this biography after playing Assassin’s Creed II, and I did spend the entire time trying to work out how the chronology fit in with Ezio’s adventures…

White’s books
Apr 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, audiobook
First, the author claims there are plenty of books about Leonardo as an artist and engineer, but he will write about Leonardo as a scientist. But he talks little about that, and not at all in the first half of the book.

Then there is the narrator who uses hokey, cartonish accents for every quote. Not worth the time.
Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting biography of Leonardo Da Vinci, who was an interesting person, but not really a scientist. That's ok - not all interesting people have to be scientists. The author tries, very faintly, to argue that Leonardo was "the First Scientist", but I don't think even he believes this. It's like he wanted to write a plain biography but thought it wouldn't sell if he didn't put an angle on it. As a plain biography, it's pretty good. But I don't buy the science angle.

By the way, I list
David Kent
I did enjoy parts of this book, and learned a bit about Leonardo da Vinci I didn't know. But the deceptive title, repetition, and tendency to speculative psychological profiling got to be too much to bear. While I much of the author's writing is fluid, he more than once would write out two paragraphs of discussion, then follow it immediately with two paragraphs quoted directly from Vasari that said exactly the same thing. As I read the latter chapters I came upon several quotes he had already us ...more
Ivor Mason
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, science, art
I wanted an introduction to the life and the scope of interests of da Vinci; probably the quintessential polymath. This did not disappoint. Luckily, the title is somewhat misleading as the book covers not just his contribution to science but also to art and how each influenced the other. It is well-accepted that much of the work that da Vinci produced, perhaps as much as a third, is lost but despite this, the book overlies biographical material with the work being produced at the time. It is onl ...more
Joe Vigil
Hmmmmm. I'm a bit conflicted about this one because I really enjoyed it but at the same time it's clearly not an objective biography. I believe the subtitle is misleading because there's not a very strong case presented here for Leonardo actually being "the first scientist". It reads more like a biography by an admirer (at the beginning the author claims Da Vinci was his childhood hero), not by an academic who has researched and dedicated a professional life to the subject. All in all, I really ...more
Paging Snidget
Dec 07, 2020 rated it liked it
This straightforward biography is accessible and easy to read. I agree with the premise of calling Leonardo a scientist. I think White argued his case well, (maybe even over-argued it at times). I don’t think the book earned the subtitle ‘The First Scientist’ though, as really only a small portion of the text is devoted to the premise.

I had some issues with the writing too. There was unneeded repetition, often using a quote then paraphrasing it. I also think there was an overuse of both quotes a
Sep 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this book the summer of 2007 when I had the great chance to spend a lot of time on a Tuscan beach at Bibbona, Italy. I read both The Agony and the Ecstasy and Leonardo, The First Scientist. It was a great comparison of the lives of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. While they did not live at exactly the same time, they were more competitors in many ways. Leonardo: The First Scientist is not a historical novel - it is a well researched chronology of Leonardo's life and contributions. It ...more
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biographies
This book did, as hoped, help me learn about the life of Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately, only about half the book was information about his life life while the other half was conclusions about the man drawn by the author. Far too much time was spent analyzing Da Vinci's psyche and motivations for my taste. Mr. White also seemed so excited about his ideas that he tended to repeat them over and over. I hope to get a break from the words "autodidactic" and "polymath" for a while. I would recommen ...more
Jan 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Michael White has a world on information to offer, but the book is organized so that there is no timeline or other thread to follow, only facts and cross-references. I couldn't even figure out cause and effect in the progress of Leonardo's life and career, as the history lessons got in the way, along with the repetitious statements about his personality. A good book for somebody with a lot of time to spend and a willingness to suspend narrative for the sake of background. ...more
David Hall
Sep 02, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I enjoyed this book and there was some nice little bits of trivia. One major issue I had with it was that White seems to focus mainly on what Leonardo didn't finish rather than explaining what was so miraculous about the finished works and ideas. This makes the Leonardo: The First Scientist a peculiarly disheartening read. ...more
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Apologies, but this felt like a re-hashing of the work of others, and without any fresh insight.
It also felt like there was too much 'let's not forget to emphasize his failings, lest we look at his genius humbly,' for my taste.
Ying Liu
Dec 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
It's interesting to talk about Leonardo as a scientist or an engineer. But by no means can we say he was the 'first' scientist. I feel myself being kind of 'clickbait'. After all, I've finished it. Also, I don't think those materials have been very well organized, there are no references either. ...more
Feb 22, 2009 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
well illustrated. White addresses the gray areas of Da Vinci’s past. White’s interpretation of Da Vinci's notes are reasonable and almost free of controversy. ...more
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Light and simple.
The book is good and easy to read. Some kind of light biography. Leonardo for begginners.
Kirsty McCracken
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
You could 100% tell this was written by someone who is in awe of da Vinci, however that awe doesn't cloud this book either.
Good lord could Leonardo da Vinci write! I knew he could draw and I knew he was a scientific genius in basically all fields, but his writing was gorgeous! He turned a paragraph written about ripples in water into a literal piece of art. Sure, he was an anti-social grump by the sounds of things (though if you went through what he did, your people tolerance would also be pret
Edmond Dantès
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was sometimes repetitive, with prolonged paragraphs of a certain idea of which one paragraph would have sufficed, but I believe it was a very enjoyable biography with the presence of the narrator being felt with, one could say, humorous asides. It was most deffinitely very informative(as I stated the only vice was that of the writing technique), and greatly contributed to my knowledge of the genius himself.
Dale Wallis
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
Interesting biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. A little too much about his struggles in life and too little about his accomplishments and his eclectic career. I thought I was getting the Walter Issacson book, which I will want to read next.
Apr 04, 2018 rated it liked it
A decent read but I don't think I'm such a fan of Leonardo anymore. ...more
Oct 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting piece of work. Here are not only described Leonardo's life and inventions, achievements and so on, but the world he lived in was pictured as well. And judge a man not knowing when and how he lived.

Finding a lot of new things about Leonardo, not that I knew much before, I got to understand the world he used to live in. As a bastard, he was never given a proper education, but maybe that was his point of start and his motivation, in the begining at least. The book encomprises his sta
May 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was disappointed by this book. The title led me to expect a concentrated focus on Leonardo and his scientific investigations. Instead, I found a straightforward biography of Leonardo, portrayed with plenty of context about his times, family, patrons, and the politics of the age, ending with a short discussion of the scientific nature of his study of anatomy and bird flight. It comes across as a well-researched popular biography founded in a thorough review of the scholarship, so worth reading ...more
Paul Clarkson
Jan 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Since the Da Vinci Code, the work of Leonardo has taken on mythical proportions. However, the author presents Leonardo in a more realistic light. Starting from his humble birth to his death with the favour of the king of France, White present an honest appraisal of his life.[return][return]In many instances, Da Vinci was ahead of his time, yet at the same time he was equally a man of his age.[return][return]For me this book was a excellent introduction to the world and age of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Jan 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
"Study me,reader, if you find delight in me, because on very few occasions shall I return to the world, and because the patience for this profession is found in very few, and only in those who wish to compose things anew. come, oh men, to see the miracles that such studies will disclose in nature" Leonardo Da Vinci.

Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Bought this used at the library. I liked it well enough, but it wasn't as exciting to me as I'd hoped. It had a lot of great information in it. It was provocative, but I don't suppose I'll read it again. It didn't stay with me and I don't remember much about it. Maybe that's why I'm not recommending it heartily. ...more
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this biography of Leonardo, which is quite straight-forward in many ways but accessible and well written. The 'first scientist' angle is a bit of a reach, which is not argued convincingly in my opinion. But that aside, it was a good introduction into his life and times. I would like to follow this on with something more detailed about his paintings and his lifestyle. ...more
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
There were many things that I did not know or forgot about his life. Recent research makes you hope that more of his writings will be discovered as there were so many things going on in his life that he tried to keep secret.

I believe this to be a great overview and recommend it highly if you are a dabbler like me.
Nov 19, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Deb by: K
I trust Kira to recommend a well-written biography. And she did. This one went down smooth. I wished for more photos, but I usually do when reading about an artist. I want to see the painting or the sculpture in question and form my own opinions.
The book had an interesting premise, exploring da Vinci's scientific & engineering studies.

Where it fails is its lack of a focused narrative. The author could have really used a better edit-job because he repeats certain points over & over & over again.
Aug 28, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good review of da Vinci's life and times. ...more
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Michael White was a British writer based in Sydney, Australia. He was a science editor of British GQ, a columnist for the Sunday Express in London and, 'in a previous incarnation', he was a member of the band the Thompson Twins (1982).


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