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Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo Da Vinci

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  208 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Why did Leonardo Da Vinci leave so many of his major works uncompleted? Why did this resolute pacifist build war machines for the notorious Borgias? Why did he carry the Mona Lisa with him everywhere he went for decades, yet never quite finish it? Why did he write backwards, and was he really at war with Michelangelo? And was he gay?
In a book unlike anything ever written
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 28th 2017 by Melville House Publishing
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Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: artists, italy, biography
This is not typical biography. Mark Lankford is not your typical biographer. He is not a researcher, an historian or art critic. He’s a drummer in a band. He has created the most cohesive portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci that I’m aware of. He does this by examining how Leonardo would think and feel under the various circumstances of his life and violence prevalent in Italy at this time.

The story begins in Vinci and Leonardo’s situation as a bastard. Lankford helps you see what Leonardo sees from hi
Faith Ham
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
A sloppy, snarky self-anointed hipster’s attempt at biography. I picked this up after reading a Wall Street Journal review comparing Lankford’s and Walter Issacson’s biographies of DaVinci. The reviewer criticized the latter for sweeping, unsupportable pronouncements about DaVinci’s character, work, and influence. Lankford is the master of unsubstantiated conjecture. His bibliography is sound, but with no footnotes and only occasional references to the works of other DaVinci scholars — all of wh ...more
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a different biography. As Lankford explains, he took the research done by others and came to his own conclusions. Reading the book is like talking with a friend about a guy he really likes. I learned much about Leonardo's time, and saw the man himself, in a different light. ...more
Feb 26, 2017 rated it liked it
An amusing and thought provoking look at da Vinci, whom I now realize I know far less about than I thought. Interesting conclusions and clever commentary - the Annunciation "Mary has a dandelion problem", in the yard where she's kneeling, had me giggling. ...more
Jun 08, 2020 rated it really liked it

A refreshing take on biography that prioritizes a perceptive recreation of inner life over a cautious, academic arrangement of facts. A welcome counterpoint to the lens of “genius” prescribed by Walter Isaacson, Lankford's book explores the potential thoughts and feelings of an eccentric individual not yet fossilized by history into the superhuman Leonardo da Vinci. If anything, I wanted Lankford to push further into Leonardo’s private self; free from the confines of a more conventional bi
May 23, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"[...] oddajemy sobie niedźwiedzią przysługę, kiedy przechwalamy talent. Miło jest chwalić i idealizować, ale pociąga to za sobą ryzyko, że sztuka stanie się niedostępna dla tych, którzy dopiero próbują do niej dorosnąć." 🖤 ...more
David Samuels
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Didn't really learn all that much from this. It's an easy, cursory review of Leonardo's life. At times the author gets bogged down in specific works like the Vitruvian Man, but overall not too shabby ...more
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
N.B.: The other day I made several mistypes in an email, typing “uniqeu” for “unique,” “unjoy” for “enjoy,” and “wihch” for “which.” I was tired, and I’m not so sure I’m sufficiently rested yet to get through this review typo-free, so buckle up - and accept my apologies up front.

Mike Lankford admits his book Becoming Leonardo is not a work of scholarship but rather his interpretation of historically agreed-upon facts, an admission evinced by the dearth of foot/end notes. I admit Lankford’s inte
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is the most unusual biography I’ve ever read. Lankford looks at a person about whom we know much (he left behind a lifetime of notebooks, and was profiled by Vasari, a contemporary), but also little (there is scant information out there about his daily life, for instance). Lankford fills in the gaps with speculation and imagination. When Leonardo left Rome and headed to France- might he have stopped by Florence to visit his friend Machiavelli? And if so, what would they have talked abo ...more
Agustinus Lawandy
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A highly intriguing read. The book reveals itself as a sort of a speculative magnifier. Looking into all the cracks and holes in Leonardo's life. The sum of which is a special kind of genius that gets better as it matures. Many reasonable guesses were made by Leonardo's recorded sayings, actions, and disposition. No glorifying, simply portraying as accurately as possible.

One memorable moment was Leonardo's quiet drawings as Michelangelo's David were unveiled. One can easily infer a sort of disda
May 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Way too much conjecture
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book started slow but ended strong. For quite awhile through the start and into the middle I was picturing a three star review, because so much of it seemed conjectural. Nominally a biography, there were a lot of moments like, "And after a morning trip to the pond Leonardo may have made his way home and helped himself to some morning wine, coffee not being on the menu in Europe for some time yet..." This irritated me a bit because I didn't get why we were spending time on what might, or ver ...more
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is hard to review!! I'm so glad I read it. In terms of being worth the time, I would say 5 stars! But, there were certain things that irritated me...

The Good: Fascinating look into his life, based on what facts are available, as well as a lot of best-effort-supposition. I really think Lankford tried his best to keep his guesswork as probable as possible...It's not his fault so little is actually known. I thought he did a great job (most of the time) at being clear about what is fact and wha
Samantha Sprole
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A rare, speculative biography of one of the greatest minds in history. No other treatment of Leonardo da Vinci has given me such a vivid idea of the life and times in which he lived.

Mike Lankford thinks outside the box of existing da Vinci scholarship, and he's unafraid of contradicting whatever bias exists in the historical research. For one, he posits that da Vinci was probably biracial, dyslexic and as defined by his prodigious flaws as by his talent.

The artist makes a stark contrast with h
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was my eighth book while in quarantine. This book has been on my shelf for a while, and I was eager to read it. I knew nothing about the facts of Leonardo Da Vinci's life, and I was not familiar with this author. This book is categorized as a biography, but I'm not sure I would agree with that. This is a book that verges on historical fiction. It's like listening to a charismatic academic lecture on a subject he has spent years pondering, so there is much to enjoy here. I don't know how muc ...more
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, historical
Well-immersed in the life and times of Leonardo, Lankford presents the world surrounding this enigma, being aware that we can't know particulars of someone so long ago, yet he is clear when he is speculating. And all this in just 289 pages!
Favorite quote: p. 18 when L. is 15-16 looking on Brunelleschi's dome "He knew how to get up there. A good place to launch a toy bird or even a kite. This dome had come out of a man's mind. In Florence the imagination was Florence a man could think o
Beth Stephenson
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This author, Mike Lankford, has succeeded in making Leonardo live again -- as the real, breathing man that he was and not the construct I learned about in art history classes. A man who would have loved sticky notes, Leonardo lives in an age and place we moderns can't truly conceive of, but it's a joy to try through whimsical eyes of the author. Thank you, Mike, for this eccentric, sometimes serious, sometimes humorous (sometimes gory) journey back in time. ...more
Roger M. Heuberger
Right mix of history with a contemporary writing style

highly recommend. enjoyed contemporary language added to renaissance topic. appreciated that where details were not know, author stated that-instead of winging it. good historic look at de vinci. right amount of details for this art history buff.
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Not really a biography, but not a novel either. A fascinating extended essay on the life and work of Leonardo. More of a commentary and reflection on what we know, what we don't, who Leonardo hung out with. And what a cast of characters! Leonardo, the Medicis, Machiavelli, Leo X, Louis XII, and much more. A perfectly enjoyable read. ...more
Michael K.
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved it. Someone finally wrote down what I've been reading between the lines for years. Kudos to Mike Lankford for writing the in the reverse of traditional perspective. ...more
May 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Light art history reading... a look at the genius and how it all came to be. It was delightful!
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very unconventional biography. Wish it had a map. Liked the opening to each chapter with what else was going on in the same year as described in the chapter.
Ginger France
Sep 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this one and learned a lot. Easy read.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author doesn’t claim to present new facts, nor does he dispute the agreed upon ones. He simply offers another interpretation and doesn’t seem to mind if you disagree. I loved the way it was written and especially appreciated the effort to provide context. We were provided rich detail about the ongoing wars, living conditions, disease, surroundings, religious beliefs, societal expectations, weather and even smells. The detail brought to life this time period like never before and provided con ...more
Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone, really. Just about anyone.
This book is full of opinion and speculation and posits things we can never know about Leonard Da Vinci. There are some obligatory facts, don't get me wrong, but if you're looking for known facts about this great engineer and artist then you are looking in the wrong place!

And Mr. Lankford makes that quite clear in his brief introductory comments.

And that's what makes this such a wonderful read. I literally could not put it down! I mean, it fell out of my hands when I fell asleep but that wasn't
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've heard the learned speak their insights about Leonardo, now I hear the voice of someone unusual, a creative type, a jazz musician wearing many hats, much like Leo himself. And the novel insights pile up. Mostly conjectured in a conversational tone as between gigs, but there are lots to consider: his late, late start; happenstance counterbalanced with inevitability; and weirdness.

This isn't the definitive book on Da Vinci, but it is a necessary one.
Paula Schumm
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I borrowed this work of nonfiction from the library. Leonardo da Vinci was a famous artist, mathematician, and engineer. He was also very strange, and the author has great insight into what made Leonardo what he became to the world. Recommended.
rated it it was amazing
Sep 18, 2018
Aniket Tiwari
rated it really liked it
Jan 16, 2019
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“Even though Vasari listed herbs and their properties as one of Leonardo’s areas of interest, this is one of those subjects that has been taboo around Renaissance studies. But the use of herbs for artistic and philosophical purposes was old when the ancient Greeks discovered it two thousand years before. In a rule-breaking and innovative time such as the Florentine Renaissance, inhaling a little canapa might’ve helped with the night’s entertainment, especially if you played the lira and improvised a lot. We know it was around. After all, Pope Innocent VIII had banned the practice as sacrament during mass in 1484. How bad did the practice have to get before the Pope himself had to step in? Perhaps the reason the subject remains untouched is because Leonardo Studies arose with Italian Renaissance Studies in Victorian England, where some subjects were allowed and others weren’t. Cannabis was one. Homosexuality another.” 0 likes
“He looked with his own eyes and suddenly realized he wasn’t off the coast of Japan at all, but instead that big black thing full of birds in front of him was a new continent. A new continent! This would be news in any age, but when it hit Europe in 1504, the news landed with an audible thump, followed by a long rumble. It almost seemed beyond belief. It is why America is America, named after Amerigo Vespucci and his stupendous thought. Fortunately it wasn’t called Vespucciland, which could’ve happened as well.” 0 likes
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