Audie Award Nominee, History, 2013
Toby Lester, author of the award-winning The Fourth Part of the World, masterfully crafts yet another century-spanning saga of people and ideas in this epic story of Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic drawing of a man inscribed in a circle and a square. Over time, the nearly 550-year-old ink-on-paper sketch has transformed into a collective symbol of the nature of genius, the beauty of the human form, and the universality of the human spirit; it has also been replicated ad nauseam on mass-produced coffee cups, T-shirts, book covers, and corporate logos. With narrative flair and great intellectual sweep, Lester revives the rich history of Vitruvian Man and endows the drawing with renewed authenticity.
Not only did Leonardo subscribe to the idea—first conceived by the Roman architect Vitruvius—that the human body was a microcosm geometrically aligned with the divine circle and the earthly square, Lester reveals that by studying the body’s proportions and anatomy, the artist also felt he could obtain a godlike perspective of the world's makeup. Da Vinci's Ghost captures a pivotal time in the history of Western thought, when the Middle Ages was giving way to the Renaissance, when art and science and philosophy all seemed to be converging as one, and when it seemed possible, at least to Leonardo da Vinci, that a single human being might embody—and even understand—the nature of everything.
©2012 Toby Lester (P)2012 Tantor
“One of the great contributions of books like this is to keep the reader from taking for granted a familiar object. Lester’s detective story has a satisfying number of insights…covers a broad swath of history…[and] 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)
"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)
"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, author of The Story of Painting)
Would you look at the Vitruvian man again? So would I, yes and each look would add to the understanding that comes by deep and thorough self study. Yet the value of this book is the way the Author has placed Leonardo into the setting giving a perception of the development of his mind. Capturing the mind of Man where we can examine it in ourselves.
Leonardo's ever present notebook that witnessed his development, chronicled it , and eventually brought him back to life for us to study.
From the moment I first saw the Vitruvian Man I was captured by it, I quickly found it was one of Leonardos. I always have wanted to speak with him and ask his motivation, The Ghost is in me.
Be the master of your fate; the captain of your soul.
It was not quite what I expected. Although the author is incredibly knowledgeable in art and architecture at that time it, I found it more a history lesson. I more enjoyed the the last third of the book as I found it took a long time to set the scene of life in those times. I guess I was thinking it would be more on Leonardo himself and how his particular mind worked. It was enlightening though and I was left with the impression that DaVinci was one of many brilliant minds of that era. I listen to most of my non-fiction books at least 3 times though this will be a one-off. Great for art/architecture history buffs.
Leonardo DaVinci is interesting! This book brings him more into life. Probably a book that is better read than listened to it still is good. I will listen to it several more times!
I am listening to this now a second time to absorb more of the details. I really enjoyed this because Leonardo DaVinci's life is so interesting. This book is about the Vetruvius Man mostly - which I thought was great! It left me wanting to know more about his life. I'm now going to find other books about leonardo DaVinci. Narrator was good.
Some Art History 101. Not particularly interesting. At all. The author could have made much more of this, by incorporating Renaissance symbolism relating to the circle and the square, the new religious outlook and ascendancy of Man in that era, and the effect it still has on modern times.
Instead, he drones on about the various historical personages and art sponsors. The same old same old. I remain unimpressed.
I never knew
He could have drawn the Mona Lisa as a joke self portrait.
The Smartest Man of the Last Thousand Years.
This was an intriguing story, a whole 'biography' of one of Leonardo da Vinci's most widely recognized pieces -the drawing of the Vitruvian man. It began in ancient history, with Vitruvious himself (who first described such a figure), not only the story of the man, but with full context of the times and his patron, Augustus, and the prevailing philosophies and all of the considerations in publishing his set of volumes 'On Architecture'. I can hardly imagine such a compendium on all manner building that wasn't illustrated - it's such a given today - and hadn't thought of it before, but once mentioned it makes some sense that it was entitely text, given the manuscript-written-by-scribes process of publishing in use until the fifteenth century. Still, to think there was no drawing done of the concept for so many centuries after... until the artist engineer Leo came along.
The book transitions to a biography of the young man and all of his studies and artistic and scientific pursuits which eventually lead to his drawing of the Vitruvian man. His talent and ambition are impressive, and I love some of the lists from his notebooks of ideas to investigate and experts to question. He really did research in nearly every field imaginable for the time, and even pushed the boundaries beyond those fields with his own studies in anatomy.
Then comes the drawing itself, and all it embodies in form and theology/philosophy. This discussion got a bit tedious for me in repeating the Vitruvian (and Leo's modified) measurements and proportions of the body. But the other topics about the symbolism and the self-portrait qualities were interesting. Throughout the book the discussion of the man-as-microcosm is introduced and reiterated in the varrying contexts - it was interesting in a way, a glimpse back to the ancient ways of thinking, somewhat inspired while at the same time permitting gaps and inaccuracies in representation. Misguided and outdated concepts were still in use-and I would have been right there with Leonardo in self-educating and learning by experience when such things confronted him.
And while I did enjoy most of the book (the greater part of which was devoted to Leo's early life), one of the topics I liked the most wasn't mentioned until the epilogue: the journey taken by that piece of late fifteenth century paper. It came to life with the descrption of the compass holes which were poked in it and the stylus grooves, the glue residue on the back, and the tracing of it's ownership over the centuries, in near-complete obscurity until about 60 years ago. And then it flooded into popular culture. What a life for a drawing.
Nonfiction narration can be tricky and I think often sounds monotone, dry, just read aloud. Not so here. It was well narrated throughout, always kept me engaged, and his voice was not of that particular quality that has a tendency to sooth me to sleep even when I am interested in what I'm listening to.
Well worth the read for anyone who is a fan or wants to know more about Leo and his man circumscribed in a circle and a square.
Among the definitely worthwhile though perhaps not at the very top (I've listened to quite a few: let's just say that I would gladly pay twice the price for this one). Lester is great at drawing different elements together in a way that enriches our understanding. I cannot wait for his next book. I don't know what illustrations the paper version contains but if there are some, it might be worth while getting the hard copy. I hope that audible will include more downloadable pdfs.
Hoye is a good reader. Names are mostly correctly pronounced, one exception being William of Conches (Conches is in Normandy but Hoye pronounces it as if it were a Spanish name).
I was very excited at certain moments.
Definitely a must for someone interested in the Renaissance or European history/culture in general.
I probably would not try another book from Toby Lester.
The Lost Painting
No. Lester wrapped it up at the end, despite the book's meandering.
The premise of the book seemed clear at the beginning, but the issue was actually complex and I would suggest reading a hard copy.
I bought this book in preparation for a trip to Rome and Florence. What a disappointment! When the author revealed interesting kernels about DaVinci's life, the story was interesting. But, those we few and far between. The rest of details about building and architecture were very boring. I decided not to finish the book.
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