Book Review – How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

If there’s one name synonymous with the word “genius” it is Leonardo da Vinci. Too often, the idea of genius is considered exclusive to a few select individuals like Leonardo, Mozart, Einstein, and others. But in “How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci,” Michael Gelb introduces us to the idea that there is amazing, and often untapped, potential for genius in each of us. The world around us is an endless resource for inspiration through observation, sensory experience, and contemplation. While we spend most of our time dealing with the mundane challenges of everyday problem-solving, Gelb points to da Vinci who – perhaps more than any other thinker – truly utilized his powerful mind to become an inventor, anatomist, artist, naturalist, philosopher, architect, and sculptor. Motivated less by necessity and more by the sheer joy of gaining knowledge and experience, da Vinci is an apt model for anyone seeking the genius inside themselves.

Drawing on da Vinci’s notebooks, art, and inventions, Gelb gives us a fascinating peek into the mind of da Vinci and into the very workings of genius itself. The book centers on what he calls the “Seven da Vincian Principles,” each of which represents an element of da Vinci’s genius, and a way of learning about, and being inspired by, our world.

For example, one of the seven da Vincian principles is “Sfumato,” which literally means “going up in smoke.” This attribute of da Vinci’s genius means “a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.” As Gelb points out, “Leonardo’s contemplation of opposition and paradox took many forms. It is expressed in the love of puns, jokes, and humor and in the fascination with riddles, puzzles, and knots recorded throughout his notebooks.”

Another principle Gelb identifies is “Curiosita, an insatiable curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous knowledge.” Gelb explains that da Vinci was, perhaps, the most curious man that ever lived: “His inexhaustible quest for truth also inspired him to look at reality from unusual and extreme perspectives. It took him under the water (he designed a snorkel, diving equipment, and a submarine) and into the sky (he designed a helicopter, a parachute, and his famous flying machine). He plunged into unfathomable depths and sought previously unimaginable heights in his passion to understand.”

Gelb goes well beyond providing interesting insights into da Vinci himself. More importantly, Gelb centers his focus on how we can emulate and apply these da Vincian principles to uncover our own hidden attributes and traits of genius. With dozens of exercises, self-assessments, and instructions relating to each of the seven principles, “How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci” is a highly engaging and enjoyable read. There’s even a da Vinci diet!

Filled with fascinating (black & white) images from da Vinci’s notebooks, as well as sidebar quotes and illustrations, Gelb’s book provides not only a worthwhile history lesson, but a pleasant reading experience.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is simply the breadth of ideas Gelb has compiled to inspire even the most latent genius toward greatness. From practicing writing with your non-dominant hand, to meditation exercises, to refining your appreciation of jazz and classical music, Gelb captures da Vinci’s spirit of open and eager inquiry.

“How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci” will appeal to a wide range of readers, although don’t confuse it with a comprehensive biographical piece. Gelb’s intention is to enlighten, inspire, and encourage us to discover the genius that resides within each of us, and he succeeds in an artful and innovative manner.

(Also check out the companion books y Michael Gelb, “The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook,” and “Da Vinci Decoded, Discovering the Spiritual Secrets of Leonardo’s Seven Principles.”)


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