From Publishers Weekly
Every year more than 5 million people line up to see Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa-but why? In his latest, German science writer Klein (The Secret Pulse of Time) seeks to understand why "this portrait of a Florentine housewife of no more than average beauty" is so "deeply penetrating." Klein makes a compelling case that DaVinci's ability to trigger an empathetic physical response in the viewer lay in his scientific acumen: the asymmetry of the Mona Lisa's smile, for instance, deliberately reflects the asymmetry of the human brain. While Leonardo is remembered primarily as an artist, his accomplishments as a scientist were at least as important; among other work, he studied the motion of water, worked out the trajectory of missiles, and designed impregnable fortifications, all with just a bare-bones knowledge of arithmetic. Klein insists that "the Mona Lisa so riveting because it incorporated many of the optical rules that Leonardo discovered," such as the way proportions change in relation to distance and colors transform as light passes through the atmosphere. Including a detailed chronology of the artist's life, this makes an illuminating new look at Leonardo's unique genius. 70 B&W photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
German science writer Klein enlightens readers about modern perspectives on Leonardo da Vinci’s oeuvre, which is generously represented here. He opens with the most widely known fact about Leonardo: he painted the Mona Lisa. Klein’s visit to the famed dame sets his pattern of trying to understand Leonardo’s thought by directly looking at his actual paintings and drawings and walking about places where the Renaissance genius conducted investigations or construction projects. A close description of the image in question, be it a portrait or drafts of flowing water, anatomy, or the technology of weaponry, flying machines, and mechanical devices, matches the acuity of Leonardo’s observations, which Klein elaborates. The views of contemporary scholars and accounts of projects by Leonardo enthusiasts to build some of his contraptions further reinforce Klein’s presentation of Leonardo as a modern scientist and engineer. Even where nature stymied Leonardo’s perspicacity—motion completely bamboozled him—Klein extols his imaginative inquiring. Using biography, travelogue, and history, Klein turns in a companionable introduction. --Gilbert Taylor