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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly engaging portrait of the ultimate Renaissance Man
I was never particularly interested in Leonardo da Vinci before reading this book. But within a few pages of starting it I was completely hooked. Michael White has the rare skill of making history come alive, and his portrayal of Leonardo and the major figures of the time really is engrossing. I find some of the other Amazon reviews alarmingly misleading. If you're an...
Published on 27 Aug. 2002 by DR DAVID N MICHIE

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Little scientific detail, but a good biography
As someone who is more used to reading technical/scientific texts and user manuals this book was quite heavy going, not least because White has a habit of demonstrating his extensive vocabulary at every opportunity (at one point Leonardo's quote is easier to understand than White's explanation!).
Once you get past his choice of language, the book covers Leonardo's...
Published on 28 Mar. 2000


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly engaging portrait of the ultimate Renaissance Man, 27 Aug. 2002
By 
DR DAVID N MICHIE (Perth, WA Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
I was never particularly interested in Leonardo da Vinci before reading this book. But within a few pages of starting it I was completely hooked. Michael White has the rare skill of making history come alive, and his portrayal of Leonardo and the major figures of the time really is engrossing. I find some of the other Amazon reviews alarmingly misleading. If you're an academic researcher looking to split hairs, you will of course succeed - but the ordinary reader will find this book provides a vivid and captivating story not only of Leonardo, but of the times in which he lived.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Renaissance man or nearly man?, 22 Aug. 2007
By 
SAP "Steba" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
The take-home message of this book can be summed up as follows: Leonardo was an orgy of contradictions -- a pacifist who designed machines of war but was troubled by the thought that his technology might be used by man for destructive ends; a man who sneered at second-hand knowledge but devoured books; a misanthrope who by all accounts was far from being a hermit and who worshipped the human form; a scatterbrain with a short attention span who could look at a painting for hours without lifting his brush -- the nearly man of the Renaissance who almost, but not quite, discovered many things. Or is that harsh? Is it in fact the author who almost, but not quite, discovered many things about Leonardo? A lot is inferred from Leonardo's "latrine fillers" comment. (It's mentioned a few times in the book.) But can we really judge a man from a few scribbled references to how horrible people are? Perhaps he was having a bad day?

The truth is that most of the conclusions drawn in this book rely most heavily on Leonardo's few words about his own feelings. How much do we know about the character and motives of contemporary public figures? Our Prime Minister, for example. We have millions of words about, and photographs of, him and I'm none the wiser. What if we extracted two-dozen sentences from his diary and maybe another dozen from one of his chum's and tried to write a biography from that? The point is that Da Vinci was a great painter, but that he was just a human being. He was as nice and as awful as everyone else. Was he a scientist? Depends on your definition. I think it's the wrong question to ask. The question we should be asking is: "That hat? What possessed you?"

I enjoyed reading it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different view, 3 Jun. 2014
By 
Gordon Eldridge (Brussels, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
We remember Leonardo mostly for his paintings and sketches, but Michael White makes a convincing argument that Leonardo should perhaps be remembered more as the first scientist. The conception of what it means to be a scientist is very recent and Leonardo may not have practiced science as it conforms to our 21st century notions. However, White makes a convincing argument that Leonardo was the first to seriously break away from Aristotelian worldview where experimentation was not valued and to begin using both detailed observation and experimentation as a means of developing theories.

White makes use of abundant direct quotes from Leonardo himself and from contemporaries, which both bolster his argument and give the reader a feeling for Leonardo the man and the context and which he lived. Occasionally, White attempts to bring Leonardo to life by attributing emotional states and attitudes to him that we have absolutely no way of verifying. This ever so slightly detracts from an otherwise very enjoyable and informative read that will give you insights into aspects of Leonardo da Vinci that are often barely covered in other biographies.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Da Vinci was a bit like the Mona Lisa., 28 Feb. 2006
By 
Mr P R Morgan "Peter Morgan" (BATH, Bath and N E Somerset United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
It is appropriate that Leonardo da Vinci painted the woman with the mysterious smile, the Mona Lisa, perhaps the most famous painting of all time. For just as there are many questions surrounding the subject matter, and why she is smiling (or is she), and whether her eyes follow you around the room, there are also many unknowns surrounding the artist. He is an enigma himself, so THAT is why he painted the Mona Lisa.
Michael White gives a broad picture of the artist, and how he broke new ground, both within art, and also is his investigations. Da Vinci also managed to bridge science and art. He was able to see science from the perspective of an artist, to visualise art with the mindset of a scientist, and capture architecture from the viewpoint of the artist-scientist.
White postulates that da Vinci was the first scientist. However, we have to remember that the 21st century of a 'scientist' is very different to that in 15th century Florence, or Milan. There was still the scope for individuals to engage in an all-embracing approach, so the body of knowledge was sufficiently small as to be able to be grasped. Furthermore, this was so for about 250 years after da Vinci's time.
Da Vinci was a very talented man, and it is tempting to question what he might have achieved if he had been more focussed. He tended to flit from one thing to another, leaving many incomplete projects, and ever two or three books-in-the-writing, not finished, or indeed, hardly started. White does bring out the breadth of the tasks that the Italian tackled, correctly giving emphasis to some achievements not generally known.
However, whereever you look, there is the enigma that is da Vinci. He is a peculiar mix of old and new, showing in his studies of eyes that he was far ahead of his time. Da Vinci goes some of the way towards the notion of blood circulating, but not quite making the impossible leap that William Harvey was to make over 200 years later. What White does is show that da Vinci was one of the first to systematically investigate, to move from the cognitive to the experimental scientist.
Da Vinci left a huge collection of notes, drawings and "scribblings", and these were firstly lost for over 200 years, and then dissipated into private collections and archives. It is always possible to show tenuous links with hindsight. Maybe there is some over eagerness on White's part, but da Vinci was a marvellous man. Geology, rain, water and clouds, anatomy, fortifications and machinery of war, canals, and the list goes on. He was forward looking, and many have claimed that da Vinci invented helicopters, and other diverse items of machinery. Yet he was steeped in the Aristotelian view of the four elements; earth, air, fire and water. He also did not spend large amounts of time investigating cosmology, as many of his age did.
Da Vinci had feet of clay, yet a very freethinking mind. He used science to aid him, to help him as an artist. His only published work, a book on art gives views ahead of his time, on distance, perspective, light and shade. That in itself would have made the man worthy of praise. He also continued to study, to both aid his art, and for scientific discovery. The fact that he was a bridge between the old and the new is another facet of the enigma that is Leonardo.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Leonardo da Vinci - first scientist, 7 Feb. 2013
By 
Claude Medeot (London, ENGLAND) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book tremendously & rated it 5-stars because it was written from a different perspective other than most Artists' view that focuses on method & techniques of the particular work in question. It went into the cause of things that influenced his life & from which Leonardo expressed himself.
Personally, until reading this book, I was only aware of Da Vince's art work through art journals and museums; including Le Clos de Luce in Amboise in the Loire France where models of his civil & military engineering concepts are exhibited.
It became clear in reading this book that Leonardo's engineering capabilities were part of his pursuit of science that we seldom hear about.
He had great observation in which he had the greatest talent of all - to draw/sketch in detail those observations; the anatomy of man but also that of birds. We realise more & more in reading this book that his 'artistic' skills were a great tool that he used to document his finding much like a scientist today would use a computer.
You realise that he was hundreds of years ahead of his times in discoveries that should be attributed to him. He was accurate with dissecting of the eye, heart, kidneys etc., but especially in the way he documented his findings after his relentless research of that specific subject. This man was truly scientific in his approach & very thorough and accurate in his method of analysis with the tools at his disposal. He never claimed to have a total knowledge of what made man function but exposed what he could for others to go further; unfortunately his notes on his works were not available to the hoi polloi of the time.
What we come to realise is that he was commissioned to paint and did so because he needed money to live. However, he turned down commissions and never finished most because his passion was truly in research, discovery and science.
This book is great in exposing the other side of his being. It also puts you into the context of the time he lived in and his patrons (Medici, Sforza the Duke of Milan etc.) which completes the book with all the necessary trimming.
I would recommend this book for all people who have an open mind and would like to know a bit more about the greatest scientist of the Renaissance period and of the next several hundred years that followed
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5.0 out of 5 stars my other half wrote this review, 19 Jan. 2013
By 
Richard Healy (north london england) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
I was already familiar with Leonardo's artistic works ( Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, etc ). But after watching Doing Da Vinci recently ( where today's engineers, artists and craftsmen re-construct Da Vinci's machines using his drawings, notes and materials ) I wanted to know more.
This is a great starting point for anyone who is interested in this complex mainly self taught man. He was ahead of his time with some of his work and the more you read the more you discover. A lot of people think he was just an artist but among other things he was a writer, musician, military engineer and an anatomist. He was constantly writing notes and it is a shame many of them have been either lost, destroyed or split up into private collections also a lot of his work was unfinished.
This may not suit the serious academic and the words The First Scientist should be termed loosely only because people will have their own view on what Science means to them.
Overall it is a very interesting read and written in a language where you don't need a degree to work out what the author is aiming to put across. It left me wanting to know more and also wondering about the work that went unfinished.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The other side of Leonardo, 30 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
After reading this book the real Leonardo came alive. The paintings are peripheral to his great search for answers to how the world functions scientifically. During this mighty endeavour we are taken into court and papal intrigues and finally to his close relationship with the King of France.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Leonardo da Vinci: The First Scientist, 3 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
I have read some of the book already & it has immediately got me facinated about the man himself. You'll be amazed at the things you didn't know about him. This is great particularly if you want to be a future Engineer, Inventor or Scientist - this book will inspire you. Enjoy!
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Little scientific detail, but a good biography, 28 Mar. 2000
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As someone who is more used to reading technical/scientific texts and user manuals this book was quite heavy going, not least because White has a habit of demonstrating his extensive vocabulary at every opportunity (at one point Leonardo's quote is easier to understand than White's explanation!).
Once you get past his choice of language, the book covers Leonardo's life with in detail, and, as promised, focuses on his life away from art. The contents of his notebooks are commented on throughout the book, and are also distilled into two further dedicated chapters. My only criticisms would be that there are only a few pictures of Leonardo's notes and drawings and there is little "scientific" discussion of Leonardo's inventions & ideas.
Not a detailed explanation of Leonardo's work, but a good biography from an unusual point of view.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars pushing it too far, 15 Aug. 2011
By 
rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist (Paperback)
This is an odd book. I think that it's main problem is that it is a popular science writer who is trying to say something original as well. While I by no means wish to disparage gifted amateurs from pursuing their own investigations, that kind of formula tends to work better when the writer first and foremost a specialist, on the caliber of SJ Gould, which White clearly is not.

White's contention, in concentrating on Leonardo's investigations, is that he was in fact acting as a scientist, perhaps the first modern one: using direct experiment to test theories that he was formulating. While Leonardo was certainly doing this, it all depends on how you define science. If it is experimentation to validate and change your mathematical theories, OK. But if you mean participating in a community that shares a larger theoretical foundation and then communicating your results for a kind of peer review, which Kepler and Galileo did, Leonardo most definitely was not a modern scientist: he kept his notebooks to himself and feared plagarism almost paranoically.

Unfortuantely, White leaves the definition unclear and so turns his book into a strange kind of anacronistic exercise. If you focus on the work on others, you can argue that many were "the first modern scientists." Some hundreds of years before Leonardo, the builders of gothic cathedrals appear to have had geometric concepts (math), which they carved into massive stone by trail and error (experiment), and they also had an overarching highly logical intellectual system, scholasticism, that was adaptive and very rich. Why not argue that they were the first real scientists?

Moreover, it is not even clear that White wants to systematically argue that Leonardo was "first," but merely that he was a pioneer. Does it even make sense to argue such a thing? What does it really add? We all know he was a genius who was largely self-educated and hence did not share the aristotelian assumptions inherent in scholasticism. But Leonardo was not systematic: with the exception of his great anatomical studies, he jotted thing down most things privately and in code, so you really have to interpret a lot of things heavily to find meaning in them.

Nonetheless, this was the first bio I read of Leonardo and it was quite interesting. Indeed, it gave me an appetite to seek more on him, though I would go for his art and engineering in the next go. It covers many of the standard details adequately and is written clearly, even beautifully. When the author speculates, which I think he does far too often, he at least makes it clear that that is what he is doing.

Recommended as a starting point.
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Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist
Leonardo da Vinci : The First Scientist by Michael White (Paperback - 4 Jan. 2001)
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