Leonardo da Vinci

Walter Seff Isaacson is an author, journalist, and professor. He has been the President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, CEO and chair of CNN and editor of the Time.

quick & compact

What makes a genius? Taking Leonardo da Vinci as a case example it becomes clear that curiosity and the willpower to explore everything to the fullest are good points to begin with. Isaacson gives us brilliant insights and conclusions from the mind of a timeless genius.

1 Big Idea

Leonardo Da Vinci was an incredible artist and scientist, far ahead of his time. He was born as an illegitimate child, but this allowed him the freedom to forge his own path. The big thing that is at the basis of his success is relentless curiosity. He was able and willing to learn about many different things, which helped him become as successful as he did.

2 inspiring quotes

“While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

“The ability to make connections across disciplines—arts and sciences, humanities and technology—is a key to innovation, imagination, and genius.”

3 actionable takeaways

Be curious.

In this book, Isaacson described how Da Vinci was relentlessly curious. He was interested in practically everything but was also easily distracted. This curiosity and willingness to switch to another task did help a lot in becoming very knowledgeable in so many different fields. This is also the basis of the other two takeaways. 

Do not limit yourself to one topic.

Da Vinci was interested in many different topics. He was not only a painter, but he was also a scientist and a military engineer, and very interested in biology and psychology. These are only a few of the topics he was interested in. He used the knowledge of a specific topic in other fields as well. The most famous example of that is how Da Vinci studied how a smile forms in great detail, even looking at how the facial muscles work, to paint the smile of the Mona Lisa as realistically as possible. 

Work with others.

Da Vinci used his networking skills to get close to many great minds of his time. He was able to familiarize himself with many different views about the world. He used this to improve his social skills even more, but also to learn more about all those different topics he was so interested in.