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The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance Hardcover – 30 Oct 2007

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books (30 Oct. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385513909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385513906
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.1 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 658,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Christian Jongeneel on 15 Feb. 2008
Format: Hardcover
The central thesis of Fritjof Capra's 'The science of Leonardo' is that Leonardo was the founder of the scientific method rather than Galileo a century later. He has a point, but since Leonardo's notebooks were only recently indexed in full, it is hardly relevant for the actual history of science.

More thought provoking is mr. Capra's assertion that Leonardo was a holistic thinker, much like mr. Capra himself. Leonardo's engineering drawings, for instance, he states, have been viewed too much through Newtonian eyes. However, Leonardo did not think in terms of action and reaction, but viewed machines as he did bodies in his anatomical studies, as complex systems with intertwined parts.

As with 'The tao of physics', the book that earned him the label 'notorious', mr. Capra succeeds in balancing on the edge of science. Even if he succumbs to speculation now and then, and gets carried away by his own enthousiasm regularly, this still makes an interesting book. Not everybody will agree with his views, but almost everybody will find them imaginative enough to be provoked into thinking about the fundamental issues of science.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 28 reviews
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Multifarious Man 30 Nov. 2007
By Jeremy Mates - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Fritjof Capra provides fascinating insight into Leonardo da Vinci, his life, and his many accomplishments. No special knowledge is assumed: all terms, such as sfumato and chiaroscuro, are well defined. The Greek and Latin schools of thought are introduced, and how Leonardo variously accepted, rejected, or improved upon this body of knowledge.

Particular attention is paid to Leonardo's methods, a man so interested in the process and underlying principals as to be a renowned sculptor in his time without a sculpture, one who left a trail of magnificent (yet variously incomplete) artwork. Leonardo asked not just "how", but also "why", and tested these questions with detailed experiments in many fields: optics, anatomy, and fluid dynamics, to name a few.

The text does repeat itself, though like a arabesque rope, repeats back on the core strengths of Leonardo, and shows in turn how these strengths allowed Leonardo to advance the fields of art, science, and engineering. Highly recommended.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
A disappointing book, doesn't live up to its title 3 Jan. 2010
By D. Dobkin - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book was a disappointment. The title leads the reader to believe that we will see a detailed exposition of contributions made (at least potentially) by da Vinci, but actually very little of the volume is devoted to such examination. The first half is a fairly interesting but overly long biography of the great man, more focused on his art than his science; and the discussion of the artistic work is mostly about the use of color, not helped by grayscale reproductions of the paintings! The second half, which purports to detail his scientific contributions, is all too often a rehash of the first half, telling us that he was really smart without providing any demonstration of the fact.

For a book about a man whose greatest talent was his ability to draw, it is woefully under-illustrated. Few pages from his voluminous notebooks are reproduced, and when they are, the pages are unannotated. This is absurd: the text is mirror-written Italian and illegible anyway in the reduced-size reproductions, and without it the drawings are mysterious in many cases.

The text is full of unsupported claims about Leonardo's discoveries; the few that are examined in sufficient detail don't really jibe with Capra's summaries. For example, Capra represents Leonardo as having discovered that light is a wave; the detailed text shows that he had in fact made the remarkably astute assertion that sound is a wave phenomenon, but did not grasp the importance of frequency or wavelength in determining perceived pitch. Capra gives no example of Leonardo exhibiting the essential properties of waves -- phase, wavelength, interference -- in discussions of light. Leonardo worked with geometric optics, which doesn't require that the underlying phenomenon be wavelike.

Similarly, he is described as having discovered the reason the sky is blue, but a more careful examination of Leonardo's remarks shows that he got only half the problem right: he correctly understood that the particles of "moisture" (actually the individual atoms) in the air are scattering incoming solar radiation, but since he didn't understand the impact of frequency on color, he could not and did not grasp that this scattering was wavelength-dependent (the 'blue' part).

The book has some gems, for Leonardo was of course a remarkable man, but all too often we have Capra reading into Leonardo's work 20th century science that either isn't there or is not demonstrated to be there. Someone will have to write a better book so that we can more fully and correctly appreciate the great man's work.

Just for completeness, I hold advanced degrees in applied physics, and have written some technical books, so my expectations for content may be a bit different from most readers!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Leonardo: The Forgotten Science Genius 6 Sept. 2011
By OtherWorlds&Wisdom - Published on
Format: Paperback
Leonardo is known best for his art. His thousands of pages of musings and drawings of science aren't as well known. The author here tries to remedy that in what is much a biography as it is a study of Leonardo's forgotten works. By exploring his life, the author tries to uncover what made Leonardo tick, his influences and motivations. Still, the mysterious man will always be that in many ways: a mystery. The author wants to look at Leonardo's work through modern eyes and how it relates to today (or would relate). Sometimes he interprets too much through modern eyes. He gives too much credence to the myth of "humanism" being the driving force of the Renaissance (all the while discussing how the Church funded much of it) or how the supposed "Dark Ages" were a time of intellectal regression caused by the church. Many writers have shown these myths to be untrue (see The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution & The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success). However, one wonders where science would have went had Leonardo published his works. Instead, they largely languished until modern times. Could use more illustrations, but still a great history of a lost genius. See also 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance for a controversal theory that the Chinese sparked Leonardo's science.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A MUST READ 3 April 2014
By David Sempau Martinez - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Leonardo da Vinci has been and continues to be a subject of constant interest, research and admiration. Was he a painter interested in science? Yes. A scientist that draw and painted to better understand the phenomena he wanted to study? Yes. A physician who dissected bodies in order to design the best anatomy maps for years to come, establishing the parallelism between circulatory system and rivers and their effluents, between the undulation of human hair and the flow of liquids? Yes. A brilliant civil and militar engineer, architect, scenographer, musician, composer and poet? Also yes, and much more. His multidimensional mind still leaves us ordinary mortals appalled. The more he discovered the more he realized what he did not know, being this self-induced learning one of the most outstanding characteristics of his endless activities. As Marcel Brion points beautifuly in his biography of Leonardo, the atypical unschooled childhood he enjoyed could have strongly contributed to his ability for discovery and self-teaching. To make it short, we can say that Leonardo embodies what today is known as “Systems Thinking”, that is, the ability to acknowledge and respect the infinite connections between everything and everything else, as well as our limited knowledge of such connections and their effects.

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.

David Sempau
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
good biography of da vinci's life and thought 29 Jan. 2008
By Dan Arias - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard of this book during an interview of the author on NPR. The interview was fascinating and motivated me to get the book.

The book is wonderful for its balance and grace. It is a concise telling of da Vinci's life and his thinking gleaned from his manuscripts and from contemporary writers. It is interesting to discover that little is known about da Vinci's personal or inner life. However, we discover that da Vinci was truly one of the first scientists in the modern sense, predating Galileo. His gifts for observation, illustration, and painting combined with his energy and enthusiasm for experimentation led him to discoveries and conclusions that would not be widely recognized for centuries.

It was a good inspiring read! I'm looking forward to reading Capra's book on systemic thinking.
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