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Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,318 ratings  ·  90 reviews
In this engaging and thoroughly researched biography, Charles Nicholl uncovers the man behind the myth of the great Renaissance master. At times a painter, sculptor, inventor, draftsman, and anatomist, Leonardo's life cannot easily be summarized. And yet, Nicholl skillfully traces the artist's early days as an illegitimate child in Tuscany; his apprenticeship with Verrocch ...more
Paperback, 502 pages
Published November 29th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 2004)
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Cherche Brodeur Depends on how mature the 7th grader is. I read it in eighth grade (but I skipped a grade so I was technically as old as a 7th grader), but again, I w…moreDepends on how mature the 7th grader is. I read it in eighth grade (but I skipped a grade so I was technically as old as a 7th grader), but again, I was pretty mature kid. If the 7th grader can't handle a little g a y then probably not. (less)

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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  1,318 ratings  ·  90 reviews

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Eddie Watkins
Aug 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
“All biographers secretly want to annex and channel the sex-lives of their subjects”, writes Julian Barnes in his novelesque biography of Flaubert and continues, “you must make your judgment on me as well as on Flaubert”. Apparently, writing Leonardo da Vinci biography, Charles Nicholl wasn’t aware of that. Though being a different kind of a biography reader, I did not intend to make any judgment on Mr Nicholl. Until I finished his book with, I must confess, a little a lot of skimming.

As every
Jul 15, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: english, biography
I strongly discommend this book. If you're looking for a good, comprehensive book on Leonardo da Vinci, I'd recommend you to continue your search.

I've read a number of reviews on a number of different books on Leonardo, to find the right one for me, and ended up with this one because of its high average rating. However I must admit that it was a huge disappointment, for the following reasons:

1. Even though Leonardo led a pretty chronological life, the author skillfully manages to mess up the tim
Andreas Fetz
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
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.
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This. Book. Is. EVERYTHING.

I actually just had to force myself not to cry, because I'm so overwhelmed. (And maybe because he dies at the end of the book. Well, duh!)
Y'know, all those fandom trash people will probably understand me. Don't you sometimes think about that one fandom in that strange way which suddenly makes you realise that all of this is not real and will never ever be? And then you get really sad or hit by that really heavy melancholy? This is what Leonardo da Vinci feels like for
Kali Samutratanakul
"How could you describe this heart without filling a whole book?" -written by Leonardo under an anatomical drawing of the human heart.

EDIT: This book changed my life, and when I reread an earlier version of the review I felt like I didn't do it enough justice. This book brings you back to Quattrocentro Italy at the start of the renaissance, which not only fostered new ideas and innovations, but also meant the crumbling of basically all conventional beliefs and knowledge. Leonardo was born out of
Nov 07, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Joel Mitchell
Jan 15, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Jul 08, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
M J James
May 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I've read on DaVinci, but it was really well written. I learned a lot about him.
Aug 08, 2015 rated it liked it
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
The Final Chapter
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
Apr 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Ryan Vande
Feb 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 28, 2009 rated it did not like it
For nine years this book has been on my nightstand. I started it, finally, in September. And only got 50 pages in...I just can't.
Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Historically excruciating detail down to a moving list with too much speculation by author -- otherwise an interesting account of the man known as Leonardo Da Vinci
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018, own
Informative, accessible, based on an immense amount of research, and despite its wealth of detail never overly dry - an interesting and comprehensive biography of an immensely fascinating figure. The only thing that bugged me on occasion was the author's tendency to repeat previously made statements and re-use quotes in several instances, though not to such extent that it impeded my enjoyment of the book.
Mini Roy
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was a thoroughly researched biography with a specific desire to understand Leonardo the man. Given the lack of documented history, speculation is inevitable and may conflict with the romantic view of Leonardo. Enjoyed the author’s thought process and narrative which challenged my assumptions
luis cornejo
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a superb biography of Leonardo. I’ve read for the last twenty years books and biographies about Leonardo’s life and ouvres and I must say this is one of the better accomplished. From lots of rare information about the master to an exquisite way of being written, I, as an artist and as a Leonardo’s long time enthusiast, highly recommend this work by mister Nicholls.
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Props to Charles Nichols for constructing a very very very very detailed biography on one of the greatest artists to ever have lived. I enjoyed skimming through to build a story that would be to my liking but for me it is too detailed . Historically and written accurately. Overall to detailed for me but Nichols has gathered amazing and extensive research.
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, italy, france
Reading about Leonardo da Vinci's life is always so interesting and gives me a peaceful mindset. The writer did a really good job in not just writing done the information he found, but wondering if it was all true too. I had the feeling that he was telling me anecdotes of the period when Leonardo da Vinci was alive, like someone older would do thinking about memories he has.
Stephanie Matthews
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was really surprised by this book. I was expecting something dry and dusty but it's eminently readable, very interesting and I actually feel like I've learned something. Admittedly more about the politics of Renaissance Italy, but it's still something.
Suz Archibald
Aug 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Honestly this book took ages to read, and whilst very well researched, it was pretty dry! The recent biographies I read about Amelia Earhart, and Elon Musk were much more engaging!
Gustav Gerät
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
very good book, I like it
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf, non-fiction
Enjoyed the bits about the paintings, not about geneology.
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A superb book. Fascinating subject and an amazing weaving together of the very little evidence that survives, mixed with the exciting political history of te period in Florence, Milan and Rome.
Allen Thomas
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful beyond description
Allyn Nichols
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
A book i chose at random. Must say it was pretty fascinating though.
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Charles Nicholl is an English author specializing in works of history, biography, literary detection, and travel. His subjects have included Christopher Marlowe, Arthur Rimbaud, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Nashe and William Shakespeare. Besides his literary output, Nicholl has also presented documentary programs on television. In 1974 he was the winner of the Sunday Times Young Writer Award for his ...more

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