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The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance Paperback – December 2, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Capra, author of the classic The Tao of Physics, makes the case in this fascinating intellectual biography for the great artist Leonardo being the unsung father of modern science. Drawing on approximately 6,000 pages and 100,000 drawings surviving from Leonardo's scattered notebooks, Capra explores the groundbreaking research of this quintessential Renaissance man. Illegitimate, born in a Tuscan village in 1452, Leonardo did not receive a classical education, a fact that, Capra notes, later freed him from the intellectual conventions of his time and allowed him to develop his own holistic, empirical approach to science. Apprenticed with Verrocchio in Florence around the age of 15, Leonardo became an independent artist when he was 25, but his intellectual appetites demanded more. He taught himself Latin and began the famous notebooks, a record of his artistic and scientific explorations. The recurring patterns he saw in nature led him to create what Capra calls a science of wholeness, of movement and transformation. Capra expresses his own intellectual kinship with Leonardo's multidisciplinary perspective on science, one that recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all natural phenomena—a view he sees as particularly relevant today. Illus. (Oct. 30)
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“Minutely researched, vividly written, and endlessly fascinating, The Science of Leonardo opens up a realm which has never been adequately appreciated.” —Dr. Oliver Sacks“Illuminating and impassioned . . . . A profound and clear exploration of Leonardo's scientific thought.”—The San Francisco Chronicle“A delight . . . . Lucid and spirited, it sparks a whole series of ideas and questions for further investigation.”—American Scientist“A fascinating glimpse of the road not taken by Western Science. Capra makes a compelling case that the science of the future may look a lot more like Leonardo's than Bacon's or Descartes -- a science of systems, non-reductive and akin to an art.” —Michael Pollan, author of Botany of Desire and Omnivore's Dilemma“Vivid and compelling. . . . Leonardo himself would have nodded in approval of this book, because for the first time it crystallizes the entire body of his work into a coherent, unified whole.” —Michio Kaku, author of Physics of the Impossible
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Fritjof Capra (bestseller of The Tao of Physics), himself a man of science, has been interested in Leonardo for decades, an interest that he has materialized lately in several books on Leonardo’s work and thinking, one of which I had the privilege to translate into Spanish (La Botánica de Leonardo). In “The Science of Leonardo” Capra explores, through the respectful eyes of a scientist for another, the already mentioned multidimensional mind of the Toscana genius and its ongoing revelations. Capra’s writing is fluid, stimulating, rigorous, orderly and soundly documented. A must read if you wish to deepen in your knowledge and admiration for Leonardo da Vinci. I strongly recommend that you complement this reading with Marcel Brion’s Leonardo’s biography and Luís Racionero’s essay on the same subject.
Capra's enthusiasm for da Vinci is evident in his explanation of da Vinci's systemic approach to the arts and sciences. Capra, himself, is very much a proponent of integrated systems - an acknowledged supporter of the idea of the interconnectedness of life. Whereas the reductive, mechanistic view of Decartes has dominated the sciences, discoveries in biology and physics over the last few decades have begun to show signs of a paradigm shift towards a more integrated approach. Capra - as a physicist - is on the cutting edge of this approach, so his writing and inferences are not without bias. His excitement and promotion of da Vinci is clearly a mutually promotional effort, but that doesn't make the book any less enjoyable.
Strangely enough, it is the half of the book that biographically details da Vinci's life and work that becomes the shining strength of this text. Although the latter half's discourse on da Vinci's science is informative and compelling, it lacks a lot of the intrigue present in the historical telling of da Vinci's story. It doesn't disappoint, but it also doesn't build upon the momentum of the first half.
Regardless of any trivial complaints, Capra's book is truly a masterpiece on the life and work of one of the greatest minds to ever live and modern science does seem to be slowly incorporating many of this great thinker's scientific philosophies. One should expect that not long into the future the science of Leonardo da Vinci will be just as heralded as his art.
While the beginning part of the book was constantly repetitive, it did have some great moments. The beginning part of the book was about Da Vinci and his accomplishments. A lot of this was also an overview of a man who left a lot of incomplete work. He also goes over many techniques that Da Vinci used in his painting, such as a sfumato or oil paintings. One of the most recurring topics that Capra talks about has to be Il Cavallo. This was the a giant horse that Da Vinci was commissioned to build, but he could not finish it due to the fact that a war struck, and all the metal was used to help build weapons.
The second hand of the half the book then has parts of the actual science that books title actually mentions. This part of the book is the better half of the whole book. It offers different types of science that Da Vinci used, and instead of talking about Da Vinci himself, it actually talked about the science in a general sense. It talked about how algebra and geometry came about. In this sense the book would talk about how Da Vinci transformed a dodecahedron into a cube and then in reverse.
The whole general sense of the book is not really worth reading the first half as much. It is far too repetitive. If the book was less repetitive in the beginning and talked more about other accomplishments of Da Vinci instead of repeating the same qualities of Da Vinci that made him great. The second half of the book is completely worth the read due to the nature of the topics. The second half offered many stimulating ideas. The last two topics about the soul and the senses. I would recommend this book due to the last half of the book.