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Leonardo: The First Scientist

by Michael White

ISBN 0349112746 / 9780349112749 / 0-349-11274-6
Publisher Abacus
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

Though the Mona Lisa may be Leonardo da Vinci's most famous piece of work, some of his other projects have had a far greater impact on the way we live today. It's the scientific inventions that Michael White, who has also written biographies of Darwin, Einstein and Newton, wants to make sure that we don't forget. Leonardo, after all, invented the telescope, flying machine, tank and diving suit among other things.

The word scientist wasn't coined until the 19th century but White makes the assertion that Leonardo was not just a gatherer of random conjectures but the world's first scientist. He asserts that the methods used by Leonardo were as important as the discoveries. In describing an experiment for observing the refraction of light, he concluded: "And form your rule from that." This mirrors the scientific method: "Have your idea, do your experiment, create a hypothesis, develop a rule, repeat the experiment to verify; if not confirmed, then adjust experiment and hypothesis."

Leonardo's scientific ideas take priority in this fascinating book but his life as an artist is also discussed. As White points out, even his art was infused with his understanding of science. "His last and greatest paintings were paeans to his paired skills as an artist and a scientist, celebrations of his twinned talents." --Alex Gray [via]