How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci – Possibly the coolest book I own!

There is no doubt which principle Leonardo considered as defining the true direction for the furrow he wished to plow. That principle was what he termed ‘experience.'” – pg 80, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

Even though the cover says it’s a “National Bestseller”… I’d never heard of it. I saw it in one of my thrift shop runs and was immediately smitten. I love the colors on the cover… the golds, rusts, browns and creamy ivory. The Vitruvian Man was also beckoning. I adore that drawing! You know I love compasses. I also love maps… not new… old… ancient, even. It’s something visceral. I’m drawn to these colors, drawings and ideas.

So. The book. Let me tell you what the author proposes in the Preface:

“Can the fundamentals of Leonardo’s approach to learning and the cultivation of intelligence be abstracted and applied to inspire us toward the realization of our own full potential?”

Of course, Gelb’s answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

I love how the book is set up. It reminds me of The Artist’s Way. The pages are wide and there is lots of room for notes.

The chapters are broken into boxes, headings, illustrations and short paragraphs that make it inviting and comfortable. You don’t feel rushed to read it. You feel like you can pick it up, read a bit and then put it down to think. Later, you can pick it up and go anywhere, though the first read should probably be straight through.

There are many excellent self-assessments that you won’t find in other books. For instance, I loved the “Sensazione” Self-Assessments for Vision, Hearing, Smell, Taste, Touch and Synesthesia. Don’t worry, it’s all explained in the book but if you’re like me, you have no idea what Synesthesia is, so here you go:

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. (link)

Is that cool, or what?

Then, after the assessments, you’re given applications and exercises. Some of the exercises are short and to the point. Some will take time and deserve thoughtful consideration.

Of course, there is a history of da Vinci, quotes (his and other’s), charts, drawings and The Seven Da Vincian Principles that make up the crux of the book.

  • Curiosita’ – an insatiable curiosity
  • Dimostrazione – testing knowledge through experience
  • Sensazione – continued refinement of the senses
  • Sfumato – a willingness to embrace ambiguity
  • Arte/Scienza – developing a balance between art and science
  • Corporalita’ – cultivating fitness and poise
  • Connessione – recognizing and appreciating that all phenomena are connected

And this is where that experience from my opening quote comes in. When you go through this book, you realize that you know a lot already… but there’s always room to grow. You are reminded, however, that the experience you’ve already cultivated is not nothing… it is, actually, everything. You just need to know how to use it. That was da Vinci’s genius and it can be yours.

Finally, this book has (what I think is) a unique ability (among self-help books) to make you feel smarter as you read it. Seriously! It’s not over your head… I know it looks like it when you initially read the Seven Steps (unless you read Italian) but I promise, it’s not!


  1. OK, so this sounded so cool, I just had to buy a copy! Found it used (“very good” condition) on Amazon’s Market Place. Neat!

    Liked by 2 people

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