Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

The world was too big, even for the huge talents of Leonardo Da Vinco Walter Isaacson wrote a biography of one of the world’s biggest geniuses. 

Da Vinci was a strange guy. He was extremely curious. So curious, that he hard a hard time finishing things. Always on the way to the next thing, and many other things at the same time. 

He didn’t make things easy for himself. He was interested in so many things: painting, drawing, sculpture, engineering, science, urban design, biology, anatomy, physics. The list goes on. 

What also did not help him was his perfectionism. If it couldn’t be perfect, he lost interest, or kept on improving forever. The Mona Lisa was a life-time’s work. He carried it around for decades, constantly improving it. A huge wall fresco in Florence, The Battle of Anghiari, he abandoned because he could not produce it the way he wanted. The invention was more important to him than the execution, improving more important than delivering. He had many book ideas, but finished none. 

But this immense breadth of interests and his doggedness is also the core of his genius. He invented things that others could not see. He combined knowledge that was not combined before. He approached art with a scientific approach. He made anatomic drawings with artistic quality. He wanted to know everything about anything. Isaacsons calls him the personification of the universal mind.

In the last chapter Isaacson lists the lesson we can learn from Da Vinci’s life. (Da Vinci was a keen list-maker himself.)

Be curious, relentlessly curious.

Seek knowledge for its own sake.

Retain a childlike sense of wonder.


Start with the details.

See things unseen.

Go down rabbit holes.

Get distracted.

Respect facts.


Let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Think visually.

Avoid silos.

Let your reach exceed your grasp.

Indulge fantasy.

Create for yourself, not just for patrons.


Make lists.

Take notes, on paper.

Be open to mystery.

A good article that summarizes the lessons, is this: https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2018/05/20-life-lessons-leonardo-da-vinci/

Some of these lessons, when applied undisciplined (like Da Vinci), can lead to the perfectionism and chronic inability to ship we have seen in Leonardo’s life. Despite his extreme talents, the world was too big, even for Leonardo Da Vinci.

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