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Da Vinci's Ghost: The untold story of Vitruvian Man [Kindle Edition]

Toby Lester
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Vitruvian Man is the world's most famous drawing, by one of the world's most famous artists. The image - named after a Roman architect and engineer, Vitruvius - has become visual shorthand for artistic genius and scientific inquiry, and yet nobody knows anything about it. In Da Vinci's Ghost, critically acclaimed historian Toby Lester examines the forces that converged in 1490 to turn an idea that had been around for centuries into this iconic image, bringing the ghost of an unknown Leonardo da Vinci back to life.

Rooted in little-known episodes of the artist's colourful career, and taking in ideas including theories of the cosmos, Roman land-surveying and the relationship between anatomy and architecture, the book tells the story of his evolving, lifelong study of the human body, restoring in vivid detail the intellectual and cultural spheres of fifteenth-century Florence and Milan. Beautifully illustrated with da Vinci's drawings and those of his predecessors, Da Vinci's Ghost is both a personal story and a grand saga of intellectual discovery that brilliantly reconstructs the artistry and scholarship of one of the world's greatest creative minds.

Product Description


Erudite, elegant, enthralling. This is a wonderful book. Toby Lester understands, and makes us understand, the unique intensity with which Leonardo saw the world. He saw it not only in its infinite diversity but also as an impression of his own self, an explanation of what it means to be human. Hence Vitruvian Man. (Sister Wendy Beckett)

Every once in a while that rare book comes along that is not only wonderfully written and utterly compelling but also alters the way you perceive the world. Toby Lester's Da Vinci's Ghost is such a book. Like a detective, Lester uncovers the secrets of an iconic drawing and pieces together a magisterial history of art and ideas and beauty. (David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z)

Like almost everyone, I've seen Leonardo's drawing of the nude man in the circle. But until I read Toby Lester's terrific new book, I had no idea about the story behind the picture--or even that there *was* a story behind the picture. Deftly weaving together art, architecture, history, theology and much else, Da Vinci's Ghost is a first-rate intellectual enchantment. (Charles Mann, author of 1493 and 1491)

Da Vinci's Ghost is both a beautiful and a brilliant book. After reading Lester's account, you will never be able to look at Leonardo's Vitruvian Man the same way again. (Howard Markel, author of An Anatomy of Addiction)

In reconstructing the forgotten story of Vitruvian Man, Toby Lester, a canny decoder of images and a great storyteller, sheds new light on the enigmatic Leonardo da Vinci. (Chris Anderson, editor, Wired)

Like Da Vinci's famous drawing, Toby Lester's book is a small wonder-a work of brilliant compression that illuminates a whole world of life and thought. Lester proves himself to be the perfect guide to the Renaissance and beyond-affable, knowledgeable, funny. Leonardo's Virtruvian Man turns out to be a road map that can take us to remarkable places-once you learn how to read it. (Cullen Murphy, editor at large, Vanity Fair)

In the tradition of Dava Sobel and Stephen Greenblatt and, increasingly, himself, Toby Lester takes us on yet another marvelous mind ramble, this time following the wending centuries-long course, or rather the veritable watershed of such courses, that led to Leonardo's Vitruvian Man. (Lawrence Weschler, director, the New York Institute for the Humanities, and author of Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative)

Lester braids intellectual threads-philosophy, anatomy, architecture, and art-together in a way that reaffirms not only Leonardo's genius but also re-establishes the significance of historical context in understanding great works of art. (Publishers Weekly, Starred review)

Lester... beautifully demonstrates the intellectual pedigree of Leonardo's image (Moira Jeffrey The Scotsman 2011-12-13)

It's a fascinating intellectual history, and it's expertly told. Lester has got form here. (David Robinson The Scotsman)

Toby Lester's Da Vinci's Ghost hits the mark... a compelling portrait of Leonardo, a potted history of western civilisation from ancient Rome to the Renaissance, and leavens scholarship with storytelling and graceful prose. (Rachel Spence Financial Times)

This book is most of all a very well written and lucidly argued piece of intellectual synthesis. (Micheal Glover Independent)

Richly rewarding (New York Times)

Book Description

The untold story of Vitruvian Man, the drawing that captured the spirit of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance - and that still haunts our own

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5550 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (10 Nov. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006GQGN08
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #570,420 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Lynn
You will know this drawing as well as you know the Mona Lisa: it's Vitruvian Man, standing inside his circle and his square with his four arms and four legs spread wide (`...the guy doing naked jumping jacks...'); but possibly, like me, you've never thought much about its pedigree. That it should have a book-long history, so riveting that when you've read it on the train it burns a hole in your bag; well, that really is the world's most famous drawing.
This is an extraordinarily interesting and exciting book. Toby Lester has spun a containing circle of his own, from his progressive researches, and from a journey made by Leonardo with the architect Giorgio Martini which probably sparked the production of the drawing. Overlaying this circle is the straight panel of history, leading from Vitruvius himself into the afterlife of Leonardo's fragile drawing, whisked about from owner to owner until acquired by the Accademia, Venice; and there in the midst of everything is Leonardo, staring at himself with sufficient intensity to transcribe his soul.
Within this diagrammatic structure whole worlds of scientific and philosophical exploration are crammed, and Lester, with his fluidly readable prose, enthusiasm, and tenacious digging after facts, is the ideal master to unpack it for us. He starts with the spiritual schema of the Lambeth Map (c.1300), with Christ standing in a square, embracing the circle of the globe; and the pagan geometry of the Roman architect Vitruvius, who saw `the proportions of ... temples [conforming] to the proportions of the ideal human body... [which] conformed to the hidden geometry of the universe'. Vitruvius was architect to the emperor Augustus, who sent his engineers marching across Europe to build `a perfect body of empire...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER
I cannot recall another book in recent years that I enjoyed reading more than I did Toby Lester's account of how "Leonardo created the world in his own image." In fact, I have twice re-read it before sharing my thoughts about it. The question that serves as this review's title was posed by Lester and he then set about to do what no one had done before. "On the surface, the story seems straightforward enough. Writing at the dawn of the Roman imperial age, Vitruvius proposed that a man be made to fit inside a circle and a square, and some fifteen hundred years later Leonardo gave that idea memorable visual form. But there's much more to the story than that." Indeed, with the skills of a storyteller and the relentless curiosity of a cultural anthropologist as well as the erudition of an art historian, Lester enables his reader to return in time to an age and an era unlike any other before or since: the Italian Renaissance and its human fulfillment, Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452-1519). Lester's narrative is developed on two separate but related levels: a sequence of events from ancient Rome until Leonardo's time, and, key developments in Leonardo's life and work, including one drawing (more about it later).

With regard to the meaning and significance of this book's title, consider these observations with which Lester concludes the book: "Brought into being more than a millennium ago and born of concepts far older still the picture [i.e. Leonardo's drawing of Vitruvian Man] contains whole lost worlds of information, ideas, stories, and patterns of thought. But look the subject directly in the eye, and you'll also see Leonardo da Vinci, staring out at you from the page.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious quality / brilliant history ... 24 Nov. 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It seems very fashionable to have the words 'Da Vinci ........' as a book title these days...

And Dan Brown, as long as you live, you will always have so much to answer for...

But, don't be put off by the apparently clichéd title of this little gem. For this is Toby Lester... and this is his second non-fiction book.

The 'Fourth Part of the World', his first book, for those who are in the know, is quite simply a work of brilliance. Witty, erudite and drenched in serious historical fact, it's slow-burning rise to five-star and must-read status remains the mark of a first-time writer filled with passion, honesty and the desire to put the traditionally academic (i.e boring) historians to shame. It was, and remains, a superb and magnificent debut.

To 'Da Vinci's Ghost' then. And it is, in essence, 270+ pages deconstructing Da Vinci's most iconic image ...'Vitruvian Man'. A grand tour from the earliest Roman origins, through the 'Middle Ages' to the 'Renaissance' and in all its permutations, here-in lies the centuries long journey of the image we all have taken for granted, but have never asked (beyond da Vinci's drawing) where it really came from.

Utterly devoid of padding, historical waffle and 'wikipedia' by-the-numbers cut-and-paste, this is an exceptional second helping from a writer who is truly getting into his stride.

Beautifully researched, written and edited ... and well illustrated too ... Lester has created a quality slice of historical non-fiction. Bravo.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't have to be a "Renaissance Man/Women" to love this book! 4 Feb. 2012
By Kathleen - Published on
I was a fan of Toby Lester's writing from The Fourth Part of the World so I was too excited to wait for the the US release of Da Vinci's Ghost (I guess it is coming to the US on Feb 7) and this UK release instead. The New York Times just gave a positive review which praised Toby Lester for his eleoquent writing but focused more on the author's command of his topic. It is incredible how the author sifts through history to pull together all the influences which led to Da Vinci's iconic drawing but what I really liked is how he made the subject so approachable for someone like me who had to date only an average interest in this man and time period. Lester writes as if he is carrying on an interesting and entertaining conversation; he explains what could be intimidating concepts so well and makes you want to keep turning the pages. Many parts were really really funny - which I did not expect. I closed the book feeling so much more connected to Leonardo da Vinci - the man. Readers can't help but get a better appreciation of Da Vinci's artful genius and inventiveness and the era in which he lived.

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book is great, Amazon's handling of sale leaves lots to be desired. 1 July 2013
By Vic - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I probably should have chosen the top level (5 Star) if I were rating the book alone.

However, the problems of the CORRECT shipping address were never resolved and the book wound up coming to my home in Williamsburg, VA, instead of the intended address in Marietta, GA. Maybe longish story concerning the mix-up, but the impossible part was in trying to get the address for delivery changed. I probably sent 3-4 messages to your apparently robotic site in trying to change the delivery address as soon as I got the email saying thank you for the order and provided the billing address (correctly) and the shipping address (Wrong). No corrective actions nor direct reply received to those emails.

I also sent a couple of e-mails to the seller asking him to make the correction. Nothing heard from him either, another robotic failure?

So instead of having my Credit Card provider (USAA) stop any payment, I elected to simply wait and see what happened next after all those one-way emails. After a few days I found a package on my front steps. It was the book. So I just hied it up to the local USPS office and overlabeled your shipper's label with one bearing the correct address in Georgia and mailed it to my son, of course at additional shipping expense to me.

I'm amazed to have found such a messed-up procedure on Maybe you can chalk it up to customer head space, but since I've been in the computer and information systems business for about 51 years now, I don't think that's the case.
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