Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Mark Lankford has written a marvelously frenetic and compulsively readable speculative biography of the great Leonardo Da Vinci. The biographical details of Da Vinci’s life leave many gaps, which Lankford explores in an idiosyncratic, yet wholly credible way. Becoming Leonardo explores a variety of intriguing aspects of the life of this left-handed "Renaissance" man, ranging from the possible reasons for his perplexing amount of unfinished works to the inspirational fact that he did not begin to achieve real notoriety until he reached his mid-forties. -Greg

— From Spring Booknotes 2017


"I found Mr. Lankford’s writing thought-provoking and Mr. Isaacson’s thought-stifling. Mr.Lankford proposes a great many insights...With immediacy and grace, Becoming Leonardo starts on a high note and gets better to the very end."—WALL STREET JOURNAL

Wall Street Journal 2017 Book of the Year
Spectator 2017 Book of the Year

Why did Leonardo Da Vinci leave so many of his major works uncompleted? Why did this resolute pacifist build war machines for the notorious Borgias? Why did he carry the Mona Lisa with him everywhere he went for decades, yet never quite finish it? Why did he write backwards, and was he really at war with Michelangelo? And was he gay?
In a book unlike anything ever written about the Renaissance genius, Mike Lankford explodes every cliché about Da Vinci and then reconstructs him based on a rich trove of available evidence—bringing to life for the modern reader the man who has been studied by scholars for centuries, yet has remained as mysterious as ever.   
Seeking to envision Da Vinci without the obscuring residue of historical varnish, the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of Renaissance Italy—usually missing in other biographies—are all here, transporting readers back to a world of war and plague and court intrigue, of viciously competitive famous artists, of murderous tyrants with exquisite tastes in art ….
Lankford brilliantly captures Da Vinci's life as the compelling and dangerous adventure it seems to have actually been—fleeing from one sanctuary to the next, somehow surviving in war zones beside his friend Machiavelli, struggling to make art his way or no way at all ... and often paying dearly for those decisions.
It is a thrilling and absorbing journey into the life of a ferociously dedicated loner, whose artwork in one way or another represents his noble rebellion, providing inspiration that is timeless.

About the Author

Mike Lankford's Becoming Leonardo was selected by the Wall Street Journal as a 2017 Book of the Year. He is also the author of Life in Double Time: Confessions of an American Drummer, selected best music book of the year by eight major newspapers including the Chicago Tribune. He lives in Bend, Oregon.

Praise For…


"I found Mr. Lankford’s writing thought-provoking and Mr. Isaacson’s thought-stifling. Mr.Lankford proposes a great many insights...With immediacy and grace, “Becoming Leonardo” starts on a high note and gets better to the very end.—WALL STREET JOURNAL

“Mike Lankford offers a compelling tour d’horizon of Leonardo’s life and work, using the known facts as jumping-off points for tantalizing (but still level-headed) speculations and reconstructions. In challenging old clichés and assumptions, and assessing the ambiguous evidence from fresh new angles, he paints one of the most intimate and clear-sighted portraits we’re likely to have of such an elusive artist.” —Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome

“With scholarly research and a novelist’s ability to zoom in and paint a truly intimate portrait of one of the greatest creators in human history, Becoming Leonardo does what historians long to do, and novelists often struggle to achieve. A book that has the pace, elegance, and authorial omnipresence of a novel, but which will enlighten, rather than annoy, the astute historian.” Noah Charney, best-selling author of The Art of Forgery

“Fun and enlightening…Lankford’s unconventional approach provides for a deeper appreciation of a genius.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Lankford, while steeped in historical resources, dates, and places, doesn’t get bogged down in dry recitations of facts; he’s always trying to get at da Vinci the man..What comes through...are da Vinci’s humanity, foibles, and imperfections alongside his gifts.”—SANTA BARBARA INDEPENDENT

“Many books have been written on the life of Leonardo da Vinci...But no one has probed his soul and speculated so profoundly about his actions quite the way Mike Lankford does...Strips away the polish and shows the man with all his peculiarities.”SHELF AWARENESS

“A creative biography of the great Renaissance artist and inventor, taking the bare factual outline we have of da Vinci's life and and filling it in with 15th-century Italy's society, culture and history; the people and personalities who surrounded da Vinci; and the constancies of human nature.”—OREGONIAN

“All those things you think you know about Leonardo Da Vinci? You may want to put them aside after you’ve read Becoming Leonardo...Peeks into the life and quirks of the master as it takes you back several centuries to Renaissance Italy.”—IDAHO PRESS-TRIBUNE

“Like a jazz musician taking a theme and improvising upon it, [Lankford] evokes aspects of da Vinci's personal and professional life and imagines (and reimagines) them. He doesn't dispute facts; he just asks 'What if?' and his slightly irreverent, totally accessible style only increases our appreciation of this great artist and complex human being.”—BOOKLIST/American Library Association

“A strange, passionate, impressionistic biographical meditation...Lankford has produced a reading experience far more similar to Sebastian de Grazia’s surreal life of Machiavelli, Machiavelli in Hell—and every bit as rewarding.” —OPEN LETTERS MONTHLY

“Provocative...Lankford...argues that da Vinci’s human frailty made him the genius we know today.”—QUARTZ

“An original take on one of the most famous artists in history, Becoming Leonardo debunks much of what other biographers have written and the historical claims they’ve made…Becoming Leonardo seeks to find Da Vinci’s brilliance in an individual so difficult to comprehend.” —ITALIAN AMERICA

"Mike Lankford’s genial and sassy biography Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci has none of the stuffiness of that exhausting genre. Little is known about the day-to-day Leonardo, but Lankford’s passionate, intelligent speculations bring the shadow to life." —THE SPECTATOR
Product Details
ISBN: 9781612195957
ISBN-10: 1612195954
Publisher: Melville House
Publication Date: March 28th, 2017
Pages: 304
Language: English