Leonardo: The First Scientist

a book review

titleLeonardo: The First Scientist
authorMichael White
date reviewed2003.05

This is a biography of Leonardo DaVinci that argues that the artist, naturalist, anatomist and inventor is the true father of modern scientists. Through following DaVinci's life in a narrative fashion with plenty of contextual information and detailed discussions of the man's many projects, the author attempts to show how DaVinci founded the scientific process.

The book discusses DaVinci's interest in ensuring that his investigations were based on a working hypothesis, and that the hypothesis was tested by the results, not the results being tested for fit to the original hypothesis (as was until that time the universal way of 'research').

It's a fairly sound argument, given the work that DaVinci did (and the man broke a lot of ground not only in anatomy, which he helped turn from a taboo into an accepted field of research, but in many things the author didn't discuss, such as geomorphology and geology) but the telling is quite muddled in a number of spots.

Part of this is due to the fact that this is a biographic study of a many who has been dead for almost 500 years. But part of it is due to the author's see-sawing back and forth between different times and different areas of DaVinci's study. There are a number of times when the author seems to get lost along the way, and the read becomes difficult.

Overall, this is an interesting subject and one that certainly deserves some attention. But the book's difficult nature did not leave me satisfied that I had really got the picture.