Meeting Walter Isaacson


I had a wonderful opportunity to meet Walter Isaacson on his book tour for his latest, Leonardo Da Vinci. As many of you know that I consider Mr. Isaacson a genius not only because of the high level of research on his chosen topics, but his insightful reach into the depths of the most prominent and always elusive people he deems “geniuses”. He is the author of wonderful biographies such as Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Einstein (See HERE) and a few more (I use the word “few” not lightly because I know it can take years of research to write the books he writes).

Anyways, on a beautiful Wednesday morning, I made my way to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco city. The location is ideal; central and offers stunning views of the Bay Bridge and the Ferry Building. You have to purchase a ticket to go inside and if you do, I insist you visit the rooftop.

I had bought the ticket through Facebook and brought my Einstein copy to get signed. Unfortunately, I had to pay full price for the new book because I didn’t plan well. For those of you who don’t want to purchase the book full price, go to Amazon (See HERE) and purchase it here. After I made my way almost to the front of the room (I have yet to achieve the confidence to sit front row), I waited anxiously for the talk to begin. Finally at noon sharp, Mr. Isaacson made his way to the stage surrounded my men in suits. The first 45 minutes of his talk was a little glimpse into the world and intellect of his subject- Leonardo. No, he didn’t do the clichéd author talk where a book reading is part of the process; instead he clearly spoke from his years of research on Leonardo Da Vinci and what kind of man he was and spell-binding stories behind his famous works of art. He did say Leonardo Da Vinci was gay, which I think is not that true; rather I think Leonardo was a flamboyant and rebellious soul refusing to settle down. He didn’t paint naked women pictures; but he didn’t paint naked men either, unlike Michelangelo, who was also from that time period.

I am sure, like any other author, Walter Isaacson writes books with a purpose in mind. In this book, he said, he wanted to answer the question, “What is creativity? Why are there so many smart people and not many geniuses?” And his answer was simple. Leonardo Da Vinci mixed art with science and that’s where creativity and genius begins. Although he didn’t agree that Steve Jobs and Einstein’s genius could be described that way (I couldn’t disagree more), he described Da Vinci’s as such.

The talk was wonderfully knowledgeable as he tried to prove his conjecture that the beginning of scientific method is being a “disciple of experience” according to Leonardo Da Vinci. I couldn’t help but, think of Einstein’s “thought experiments” and even my own creativity process comes from my experiences in readings, writing, music, and life in general. Leonardo’s first rule of life was to “stay curious” and during the Renaissance Period in Florence, the Silicon Valley of the arts at the time, it was the perfect location to stay curious and explore.

Walter Isaacson opines that the setting of Leonardo’s fame was his beloved city of residence, Florence. People, smart and intelligent people, were coming from all over the world with their talents and knowledge. It was a melting pot of ideas and those ideas were welcomed.

Some people would define a genius as someone who thinks out of the box. Walter Isaacson describes a genius as someone who blends art and science. My definition of genius is someone who sees the obvious and has the ability to express it in such a simple way that the masses can understand it. And Walter, like Leonardo Da Vinci does just that. I haven’t read the book yet, so I am not sure what his writing style is in this book. But, during the talk, I had an inkling he may be impressed with the book “The Outlier” (See HERE) when he described moments that left an impression on Leonardo’s life and were reflected in his work.

While Walter Isaacson adored Leonardo’s incessant note taking habit, my favorite part about Leonardo Da Vinci was his obsession with turning a square into circle (or was it vice versa? Lol). And when he said that he never really could turn the circle into a square (or vice versa) he did achieve perfect-proportioned dimensions of a circle to the square to the human body. I was euphoric to realize such a genius exists. This euphoria of mine is usually is reserved for a Taylor Swift song (don’t judge ;)). While the “perfect man” is more flat in the sketch and probably impossible to find in real life because of the law of physics life adheres to, it was a noble attempt and demonstrates his mathematical genius (not just arts’).

Walter’s research and writing process for this book was difficult because of the “tinglings” he felt each time he handled Leonardo’s work. It was a joke, but I can understand how in awe someone can be when they see works of arts by these great men. I know I was when I was in Italy.

I asked the question (on a notecard), “How do you pick your subjects?” To which he responded with something I never thought of. He said that he looks at patterns in nature and that propensity in others make SOME people more creative than others. Those are the people he writes about. Very cool answer!

Walter Isaacson’s finished the talk and the subsequent interview with a lesson: pause and observe. He knows creativity is not innate and has to be developed through observation and experience; however, like anything, one must nurture it. He describes art as a whirlpool and science as a formula visually, but essentially they are the same thing. Pretty cool in my book (pun intended ;)). Happy Reading!!!