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Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo Da Vinci

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Leonardo da Vinci was one of history's true geniuses, equally brilliant as an artist, scientist, and mathematician. Readers of The Da Vinci Code were given a glimpse of the mysterious connections between math, science, and Leonardo's art. Math and the Mona Lisa picks up where The Da Vinci Code left off, illuminating Leonardo's life and work to uncover connections that, unt Leonardo da Vinci was one of history's true geniuses, equally brilliant as an artist, scientist, and mathematician. Readers of The Da Vinci Code were given a glimpse of the mysterious connections between math, science, and Leonardo's art. Math and the Mona Lisa picks up where The Da Vinci Code left off, illuminating Leonardo's life and work to uncover connections that, until now, have been known only to scholars. Following Leonardo's own unique model, Atalay searches for the internal dynamics of art and science, revealing to us the deep unity of the two cultures. He provides a broad overview of the development of science from the dawn of civilization to today's quantum mechanics. From this base of information, Atalay offers a fascinating view into Leonardo's restless intellect and modus operandi, allowing us to see the source of his ideas and to appreciate his art from a new perspective. William D. Phillips, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997, writes of the author, "Atalay is indeed a modern renaissance man, and he invites us to tap the power of synthesis that is Leonardo's model."


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Leonardo da Vinci was one of history's true geniuses, equally brilliant as an artist, scientist, and mathematician. Readers of The Da Vinci Code were given a glimpse of the mysterious connections between math, science, and Leonardo's art. Math and the Mona Lisa picks up where The Da Vinci Code left off, illuminating Leonardo's life and work to uncover connections that, unt Leonardo da Vinci was one of history's true geniuses, equally brilliant as an artist, scientist, and mathematician. Readers of The Da Vinci Code were given a glimpse of the mysterious connections between math, science, and Leonardo's art. Math and the Mona Lisa picks up where The Da Vinci Code left off, illuminating Leonardo's life and work to uncover connections that, until now, have been known only to scholars. Following Leonardo's own unique model, Atalay searches for the internal dynamics of art and science, revealing to us the deep unity of the two cultures. He provides a broad overview of the development of science from the dawn of civilization to today's quantum mechanics. From this base of information, Atalay offers a fascinating view into Leonardo's restless intellect and modus operandi, allowing us to see the source of his ideas and to appreciate his art from a new perspective. William D. Phillips, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997, writes of the author, "Atalay is indeed a modern renaissance man, and he invites us to tap the power of synthesis that is Leonardo's model."

30 review for Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art and Science of Leonardo Da Vinci

  1. 4 out of 5

    Wendi

    Despite the size of this book (a smaller hardback just brushing 300 pages) and despite my earnest attempt to devote time to it (as necessitated by reading it for a final project for math class), it seemed to take forever to get through it. And I cheated. I found this a frustrating narrative. I was enthralled by the personal and professional details regarding Leonardo but skimmed through pages of math far beyond my comprehension. I don't pretend to be anywhere near competent in math but I've disc Despite the size of this book (a smaller hardback just brushing 300 pages) and despite my earnest attempt to devote time to it (as necessitated by reading it for a final project for math class), it seemed to take forever to get through it. And I cheated. I found this a frustrating narrative. I was enthralled by the personal and professional details regarding Leonardo but skimmed through pages of math far beyond my comprehension. I don't pretend to be anywhere near competent in math but I've discovered in this class that, given time and a good teacher, I can understand concepts pretty well. This book seems to market itself (and is categorized in the library) primarily as biographical, then art, then science. This made me approach it feeling like, sure, there's going to be some math in here and I'm going to have to deal with that but sort of assumed (to my fault) that given the apparent mainstream targeting that it would be at least comprehensible. About a quarter of the way through, despite reading examples multiples times in an attempt to understand them, I began to believe that even my mathematically and scientifically minded friends would have some difficulty following it. This made it more difficult to understand the general concept of the golden ratio and at about page 200, I put the book down, went to Wikipedia, and understood the whole concept better just by reading the first paragraph on that page. Also, it feels really cobbled together. For the second half, I skimmed through it, looking for the pertinent parts I needed for my project and details about Leonardo, which I always find fascinating. I get the sense that the author is a great artist and a great scientist and probably even a very good writer but the book seemed like he worked on different parts of the whole - concepts and historical aspects linked to both Leonardo and the golden ratio - but then just kind of them threw them together instead of forming a more comprehensive narrative. I found myself reading things towards the end about which I kept thinking, "Well, why didn't he explain that earlier?" I think dumbed down a bit for a more general audience and with a better editor for the general map of the book, this book would have found a wider audience. If I had picked it up for the Leonardo aspect alone as pleasure reading and not for primarily a school project, I would have abandoned it far earlier. As it was, I still couldn't bring myself to read the whole second half. I'm glad the book was written; I love reading books that combine two of my pleasures - art and science - it just feels like it could have been better executed.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lourdes

    It is a fascinating book, though some of the math is quite a bit above my head. I am enjoying the discovering how math is used in art. For instance, I finally have a good understanding of the "golden rectangle." Other golden proportions I understand by sight and feel and don't get the math. A very interesting read. It is a fascinating book, though some of the math is quite a bit above my head. I am enjoying the discovering how math is used in art. For instance, I finally have a good understanding of the "golden rectangle." Other golden proportions I understand by sight and feel and don't get the math. A very interesting read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    As other reviewers note, the title is a bit misleading. Leonardo Da Vinci, the “part-time artist [who] produced the epitome of art”, is the somewhat weak link by which the author tries to hold the book together (only a few chapters are exclusively devoted to him). Leonardo’s importance may be summarized by: “In this one man’s works there is more cross-semination of ideas from different intellectual worlds than among the works of generations of specialists in any number of disciplines.” Early on i As other reviewers note, the title is a bit misleading. Leonardo Da Vinci, the “part-time artist [who] produced the epitome of art”, is the somewhat weak link by which the author tries to hold the book together (only a few chapters are exclusively devoted to him). Leonardo’s importance may be summarized by: “In this one man’s works there is more cross-semination of ideas from different intellectual worlds than among the works of generations of specialists in any number of disciplines.” Early on in the book, in the midst of the interesting explanation of the Fibonacci series and the golden rectangle, triangle, pyramid, logarithmic spiral, etc. a number of other facts or stories are sometimes hung out there which do not seem to have much linear relation to the topic at hand. As a result, I found myself writing “so what?” several times in the margins of the book as the discussion meandered. Similarly, I found the rehash of the history of science near the end of the book to be inferior to other resources which are available. Overall, a more limited focus would have made this a much better book. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the discussion. A major point of application in Atalay’s book is that “dramatic progress in any field is most effectively catalyzed by cross-fertilization with others” and that “lack of communication” between the worlds of science, art, and technology “pervades all levels of society.” To flesh this point out, it would have been instructive to read a few more historical and contemporary examples of others who have bridged the gap. I also appreciated the closing application which stressed how Leonardo was “self-nurtured” more so than a happy accident of nature and nurture. More would have been helpful here. In conclusion, there are better books out there about the history and development of math and science. There are also better books which help us to understand and appreciate art. And there might even be better books which look at the relationship between art and science from an interdisciplinary perspective, which is Bulent Atalay’s purpose in Math and the Mona Lisa. Having said that, having not read anything better in the latter category, I still found “Math and the Mona Lisa” to be a helpful companion to guide me in reflecting and thinking more deeply on the inter-relationships between the worlds of math, science, and art.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Naila Hina

    Mona Lisa and Da Vinci have been true inspirations for me and my family and students of scientific literature and art lovers indeed! I have written many times on this topic since childhood and my poem relates to the essence and matter of this great book i.e. how math science and art intertwined magically in Da Vinci's master work!! Please enjoy: Mona Lisa Naila Hina I have been told my smile Resembles Mona Lisa's A true mystery I liked her For the scientific reasons A true piece of beauty and art is the o Mona Lisa and Da Vinci have been true inspirations for me and my family and students of scientific literature and art lovers indeed! I have written many times on this topic since childhood and my poem relates to the essence and matter of this great book i.e. how math science and art intertwined magically in Da Vinci's master work!! Please enjoy: Mona Lisa Naila Hina I have been told my smile Resembles Mona Lisa's A true mystery I liked her For the scientific reasons A true piece of beauty and art is the one having symmetry But when you divide this Masterpiece of DA Vinci In four equal quadrants, you Will be amazed to find out That every part of the face Is different from each other! also when you see it from Different angles it depicts Very different emotions And feelings and convey Many different messages. Besides the background is Also very communicative Showing the evolution of Life and the human specie Through visionary landscape Painted on wood plank Rather than the canvas The aerial technique Fascinated by the lights La Gioconda, is the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. It can't be bought or sold belongs to the heart of public And their hearts belong to her Jackie Kennedy invited her To visit USA for display and Louvre and de Gaulle agreed Remained With Francois I, Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte Some scholars suggest it’s Self portrait of DA Vinci

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anya

    I struggle reading non-fiction when it’s not something I’m super interested in but reading this book really solidified my passion for the blend of maths and art. It’s just interesting to see the different opinions on how historically maths was used in art and vice versa. And if I’m totally honest, reading the book makes you wonder how you could ever have seen them as completely separate subjects in the first place.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Corinne Arnold

    Fascinating and inspiring. The mathematical concepts are simplified enough for the layman to appreciate, though their expertise might fall short of complete understanding. A great book for any person who finds value in interdisciplinary interests or study. As a someone who was only minimally familiar with Da Vinci and the history of physics on the outset, it offered me a broad introduction to both topics and succeeded in holding my interest by making meaningful historical and cultural contextual Fascinating and inspiring. The mathematical concepts are simplified enough for the layman to appreciate, though their expertise might fall short of complete understanding. A great book for any person who finds value in interdisciplinary interests or study. As a someone who was only minimally familiar with Da Vinci and the history of physics on the outset, it offered me a broad introduction to both topics and succeeded in holding my interest by making meaningful historical and cultural contextual connections throughout. There is even the occasional lyric verse embedded here and there for the poetry lovers of the world. Will be recommending.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tanner Mcguire

    The book gets better when the author steps out of his own way. He tries to imagine himself as a Leonardo type person, he might be but that isn’t the reason why I picked up this book. If I wanted to read an autobiography I would have. The maths, art, and science concepts in the book are presented well but again the author got in his own way while explaining or giving examples.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jiawei Wang

    A very good book. It talked mainly about Da Vinci's life and the relation between science and art, not really focus on the painting Mona Lisa. But it's just good, not at the level of excellence. A very good book. It talked mainly about Da Vinci's life and the relation between science and art, not really focus on the painting Mona Lisa. But it's just good, not at the level of excellence.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Max Weinhold

    Starts off slow and works hard to find examples of math in art and architecture, but as it progresses into a biography of Leonardo and a history of scientific discovery and curiosity, becomes quite powerful. Contains good advise for all inspiring polymaths out there to listen to nature and keep copious records of one's doings. Starts off slow and works hard to find examples of math in art and architecture, but as it progresses into a biography of Leonardo and a history of scientific discovery and curiosity, becomes quite powerful. Contains good advise for all inspiring polymaths out there to listen to nature and keep copious records of one's doings.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joe White

    review of Math and the Mona Lisa by Bulent Atalay June 30, 2016 Read the last chapter first. It discusses the dichotomy of background reference among society in general, and provides a high level reflection of the difficulty of communication between people who are attuned to either art and humanistic natural sciences versus more technically oriented people who might pursue mathematical foundations behind observed phenomenon. It also posits the growing trend among technologists to have created a th review of Math and the Mona Lisa by Bulent Atalay June 30, 2016 Read the last chapter first. It discusses the dichotomy of background reference among society in general, and provides a high level reflection of the difficulty of communication between people who are attuned to either art and humanistic natural sciences versus more technically oriented people who might pursue mathematical foundations behind observed phenomenon. It also posits the growing trend among technologists to have created a third classification in the dichotomy, where there are special strengths for people who have developed tech skills that require specialized knowledge within technical frameworks (ie. programmers who may not be language designers, standard library designers, or compiler writers.) The bulk of the book is a look at special observational skills required for quantifying the sciences, and makes an attempt to relate mathematical relationships found in artistic layouts. It uses Leonardo as a fulcrum to pay credit to his landmark observations, measurements, mathematical skills, and prognostications for future technology and capabilities. The material can be used as an excellent background for historical research in the development of physics and applied mathematics. It is also a very good jumping off point for artistic efforts in the time-line of da Vinci. In consensus with the dichotomy discussed in the last section, I found the artistic revelations to be interesting, but not compelling enough to apply the necessary force to keep turning pages. However, the physics sections as related by the historical account of the lead personalities, also began to weigh heavily on my patience and required forced reading at some points. I believe that the copy I have was probably a supplemental text to one of the humanities classes at a local college. The knowledge repository provided here should be required reading for all individuals who need to broaden their appreciation of math, physics, art, and the histories of those endeavors related from the humanistic viewpoint. Personally I believe that everyone should read this, regardless of whether they think they need the knowledge simply because exposure to the ideas as presented here should have an influence on reflective thinking of increasingly constrained minded individuals that tend toward creating localized hive-minds in exclusion of the general population.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mycala

    A fascinating look at the science of art and the art of science with lots of interesting facts about some of the most brilliant minds in science... as well as the brilliance of da Vinci, of course. One of my favorite parts in this book was the story of the Indiana Department of Highway Legislators in the 1940s who couldn't quite understand why engineers would need an electric calculator. When one of the engineers tried to explain to the dimwit that they needed to follow precise calculations with A fascinating look at the science of art and the art of science with lots of interesting facts about some of the most brilliant minds in science... as well as the brilliance of da Vinci, of course. One of my favorite parts in this book was the story of the Indiana Department of Highway Legislators in the 1940s who couldn't quite understand why engineers would need an electric calculator. When one of the engineers tried to explain to the dimwit that they needed to follow precise calculations with pi, an irrational number, the dimwit wandered into the meeting to attempt to explain the justification for the purchase. He emerged a bit later to say that while they couldn't afford the calculator, the legislators agreed that it would be okay for the engineers rather than using 3.14 et cetera, to just round up to 4. What an illustration. Some things never change.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    I liked the second half of this book better than the first. The first half was a lot of math history, and I learned a lot of that in my math history class in college. Interesting, but I already knew much of it. After a while, I wanted to say to the author, "I get it! The golden ratio is everywhere!" I really liked the two chapters specifically about Leonardo. He seems fascinating, and I wouldn't mind reading more about him. I did really enjoy the last few chapters which were more of a history of I liked the second half of this book better than the first. The first half was a lot of math history, and I learned a lot of that in my math history class in college. Interesting, but I already knew much of it. After a while, I wanted to say to the author, "I get it! The golden ratio is everywhere!" I really liked the two chapters specifically about Leonardo. He seems fascinating, and I wouldn't mind reading more about him. I did really enjoy the last few chapters which were more of a history of science; I didn't know nearly as much about the scientists. Overall, quite interesting. It's been on my list to read for several years.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Some might say this book is wide ranging, other might say unfocused. While the historical asides (Euclid, Pythagoras, et al.) are appropriate as they formed the background of Leonardo's thought and the work of his near contemporaries (Kepler, Galileo, Newton, et al.) is interesting because they often rediscovered ideas that Leonardo pioneered, the modern digressions (relativity and quantum mechanics) seem forced and strained. This is not to say that these digressions are uninteresting, but they Some might say this book is wide ranging, other might say unfocused. While the historical asides (Euclid, Pythagoras, et al.) are appropriate as they formed the background of Leonardo's thought and the work of his near contemporaries (Kepler, Galileo, Newton, et al.) is interesting because they often rediscovered ideas that Leonardo pioneered, the modern digressions (relativity and quantum mechanics) seem forced and strained. This is not to say that these digressions are uninteresting, but they seem to be an afterthought intended more to fill out the word count than an integral part of the book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Marcy

    This is certainly one of the most unique books I've ever read. It's wonderful to see this level of interdisciplinary thinking in action. And certainly Leonardo da Vinci is the person to examine the interconnectedness of mathematics, physics, painting, architecture, and nature. When Atalay is offering concrete examples of how the intersection of knowledge operates, he's at his best. At other times the focus becomes far too mathematical for the lay reader. Nevertheless this book is an important on This is certainly one of the most unique books I've ever read. It's wonderful to see this level of interdisciplinary thinking in action. And certainly Leonardo da Vinci is the person to examine the interconnectedness of mathematics, physics, painting, architecture, and nature. When Atalay is offering concrete examples of how the intersection of knowledge operates, he's at his best. At other times the focus becomes far too mathematical for the lay reader. Nevertheless this book is an important one, especially for young students so they can appreciate how all of the various subjects they study are interdependent. I definitely wish I had been exposed to such ideas when I was young.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    This caught my eye in a museum gift shop. I really wanted to know how it linked math and science to art. I'm really glad that I bought this book because it opened my eyes several fascinating correspondences between mathematical theory and artistic rendering. This book really gave me a fresh new perspective on how I look at art and beauty. Although the book discusses specific mathematical concepts and equations I did not feel overwhelmed with them coming from a non-math perspective. The book is we This caught my eye in a museum gift shop. I really wanted to know how it linked math and science to art. I'm really glad that I bought this book because it opened my eyes several fascinating correspondences between mathematical theory and artistic rendering. This book really gave me a fresh new perspective on how I look at art and beauty. Although the book discusses specific mathematical concepts and equations I did not feel overwhelmed with them coming from a non-math perspective. The book is well written and very accessible to a lay person.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Israel

    Definitely a great take on the life and work of Leonardo Da Vinci, especially with emphasized look upon the golden ratios and use of perspectives. However, I believe that too much content was spent on looking back upon Da Vinci, Einstein, Newton, and 19th-20th century scientists in a historical context. It would've been nice to see more explanation on how art and science further relate to each other. Nonetheless, this was a great read and more insight and value is given on the genius, that is Le Definitely a great take on the life and work of Leonardo Da Vinci, especially with emphasized look upon the golden ratios and use of perspectives. However, I believe that too much content was spent on looking back upon Da Vinci, Einstein, Newton, and 19th-20th century scientists in a historical context. It would've been nice to see more explanation on how art and science further relate to each other. Nonetheless, this was a great read and more insight and value is given on the genius, that is Leonardo Da Vinci. (P.S. I enjoyed the moments of humour as well as the references to magicians)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    The subtitle is "The Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci" but it is more of a history of science. Several of the chapters make only tangential (or even tortured) reference to Leonardo. The latter part of the book delves into relativity and quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, discussions of these topics as a history and exposition for the lay-person have been done much better in other books. I can reluctantly recommend the book since Leonardo is such a fascinating person that even less than excell The subtitle is "The Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci" but it is more of a history of science. Several of the chapters make only tangential (or even tortured) reference to Leonardo. The latter part of the book delves into relativity and quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, discussions of these topics as a history and exposition for the lay-person have been done much better in other books. I can reluctantly recommend the book since Leonardo is such a fascinating person that even less than excellent discussions are still worth the time.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I can see where Mathematicians would find it slow and heavy in theory when perhaps their hope was for more application. Art Historians, will enjoy the prose as the author romanticizes the life and works Da Vinci. It was enjoyable, but I fear it's admirers will be a small niche of math / science / history / art enthusiasts. A rare albeit well rounded fan group. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I can see where Mathematicians would find it slow and heavy in theory when perhaps their hope was for more application. Art Historians, will enjoy the prose as the author romanticizes the life and works Da Vinci. It was enjoyable, but I fear it's admirers will be a small niche of math / science / history / art enthusiasts. A rare albeit well rounded fan group.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Blake

    written by my old prof of physics - whom I adore! Like his lectures, the book is interesting, filled with lots of good tid-bits, but jumps around some. Interesting none the less. Recommend reading it while next to the internet, so you can look up more about a lot of the things he is discussing - there is a lack of pictoral images

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mckinley

    This is a discussion of how science, mostly math, relates to and informs art and how art reveals mathematical concepts. The two are hung on the life and work of Leonardo de Vinci but this is not a biography. Interesting, mostly a review; general science rather than in depth, within a historical context the mapped to art and arcetechure.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This book is an excellent - although, a bit heavy at times for mathematically challenged individuals such as myself - read. It is the one book I was assigned to read at school that I decided to keep. If you are fascinated with the Renaissance man that was Da Vinci, the perfection and symmetry in his work, this is a book you'd like to read This book is an excellent - although, a bit heavy at times for mathematically challenged individuals such as myself - read. It is the one book I was assigned to read at school that I decided to keep. If you are fascinated with the Renaissance man that was Da Vinci, the perfection and symmetry in his work, this is a book you'd like to read

  22. 5 out of 5

    Geronimo Valin

    One of those gems ya know! Great mixture of history, math, and inspiration that one gains through imagining what it would be like to see through the sees of a genius like da vinci. A "part time artist" whos paintings were to him only a micro portion of what he accomplished yet they are known as the greatest paintings of all time. What a mind! One of those gems ya know! Great mixture of history, math, and inspiration that one gains through imagining what it would be like to see through the sees of a genius like da vinci. A "part time artist" whos paintings were to him only a micro portion of what he accomplished yet they are known as the greatest paintings of all time. What a mind!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Fabulous book! Fascinating read in to the life of da Vinci, he was a brilliant man in many areas. This book is especially meaningful to me as my daughter bought it for me on her school trip to DC this summer - she knows I love math and well, my name is Lisa. (Her reasons for buying it for me!)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Candace

    An incredible compilation and comparison of science and art. Discussion of mathematics, geometry, and their appearance in art throughout history. Excellent reminder of why everyone should learn the Pythagorean theorem and da Vinci's incredible application of science to art and art to science. An incredible compilation and comparison of science and art. Discussion of mathematics, geometry, and their appearance in art throughout history. Excellent reminder of why everyone should learn the Pythagorean theorem and da Vinci's incredible application of science to art and art to science.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    What a wonderful book! This book traces the history of math, and relates known math concepts to art and nature. I was fascinated by this book, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in math first, and art second.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Connie Collins Johnson

    Define good...very historical nd learned lots I did not know about Leonardo DaVinci. Appreciated it all te more having just returned from Italy. But the math is a bit much for me. Well written, I would recommend it if you are looking for an intellectual read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    Pretty interesting. Perhaps make too bold of statements. Could have been half as long.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Linda Harkins

    The style of writing is not to my liking. Bulent Atalay, obviously a polymath, is telling and teaching. Again, this is one of those books I made myself read, but not enjoyable reading.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    Wonderful illustration of the science and art weave that is found in every da Vinci painting, drawing and more.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sue Sproul

    Bought this one for my engineer husband, but enjoyed it myself. A fascinating topic. Once I read it I began to see Fibonacci curves everywhere I looked!

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