This book helps to clear up one of the really silly images of Leonardo that exist in our world today.
People often think of Leonardo as some kind of supreme genius. We have a popular image of him sitting on a lofty mountain, serenely contemplating the universe from a point far beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
This book reveals the long and honorable history of how Leonardo learned from others about how to do his science. His teacher, Verrocchio, was a mechanical inventor who created a rather fabulous, whimsical clock. Leonardo learned from him and applied his principles to other things.
Throughout his life, Leonardo worked within a sphere of known mechanical knowledge. He stretched it in some places and improved it in others.
He was a very good scientist, and an extremely good observer. But an all-encompassing divine genius, he was not.
This simply proves what we've all known for years. Science cannot be done in a vaccum. Great achievements do not happen in isolation. Things happen because communities of people work together to toward a common goal - exactly like the kind of artist community Leonardo worked in under his tutelage by Verrocchio.
When Leonardo had a question, he asked others for an answer. He found some of his inspiration in ancient works of literature.
There were other inventors working at the same time who created mechanical devices far more advanced than anything Leonardo ever achieved. Why do people never remember these others, and only Leonardo?
Giovanni de Dondi, for example, created an astonishing seven-sided clock called an Astrarium, the most intricate example of medieval technology for centuries. We know Leonardo studied and sketched it, although he never equalled it.
Anyhow, interest in Leonardo seems to be waning in the popular world. I don't believe that most people know very much about Leonardo. Most of what they believe about him seems to come from a certain popular bestseller, much of which is flatly wrong.
I write this long after "The Da Vinci Code" has come and gone. The movie tanked, and the book is largely forgotten.
The charm of Leonardo lies not in his paintings, of which there are few, and certainly not in some silly, imaginary "code." His charm lies in the fact that he was a weird and wacky inventor.
He created more inventions than Giovanni de Dondi, and in all areas of technology. He was fascinated by the unknown, and captured by the joy of creativity.
Few people understand the charm of weird and wacky inventions the way Leonardo evidently did. "The Da Vinci Code" barely even mentions Leonardo's wacky inventions, except in a few brief, rather insulting asides that do nothing more than downride a great thinker.
Leonardo himself would be outraged.
It is a shame that Leonardo the man, who was not gay, who did not do "hundreds" of paintings for the Vatican, and who did not have a "lavish lifestyle" the way the "Da Vinci Code" claims, is not more widely known.
Why do people need a bestseller to interest them in someone like Leonardo? Books like "Leonardo's Lost Robots" should be enough.
The one flaw in this otherwise brilliant book is that it is recommended on the author's website to be for "anyone who has read 'The Da Vinci Code.'" I think this is an unbelievably sleezy advertising campaign that is bound to backfire in the end.
Goofy, unintelligent books like "The Da Vinci Code" come and go. Leonardo's weird and wacky inventions, however, last forever. They are always charming, fascinating and beautiful, a rare combination. Something that people would do well to learn from in the future.