RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewWalter Isaacson follows dozens of clues to reanimate Leonardo da Vinci, one of the boldest of these border-crossers. Though Leonardo wrote endlessly, he revealed little directly about his inner life. Without fuss and without Freud — though Dan Brown, unfortunately, makes an appearance — Isaacson uses his subject’s contradictions to give him humanity and depth ... As Isaacson follows Leonardo from one locale and occupation to another, his energy never fails and his curiosity never dims. Again and again he turns up a surprising and revelatory detail ... Isaacson shows that the work of great scholars like the Leonardo specialist Martin Kemp can be exciting in its own right ... Connecting these dots — showing that Leonardo shared interests and ideas with many predecessors and contemporaries — would have made Isaacson’s history even richer. Then again, the choice of a tight angle lens might have been deliberate. After all, Leonardo himself painted his portrait subjects against blurry, indistinct landscapes.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe history of paper is a history of cultural transmission, and Kurlansky tells it vividly in this compact, well-illustrated book ... Kurlansky briskly surveys everything from Chinese oracle bones, cuneiform tablets and Egyptian papyrus to Mexican amate — the bark-based writing material, not a true paper, on which the Aztecs wrote their glyphs, though they may also have made real paper from agave. He has a sharp eye for curious details ... [Paper is] most useful as a broad survey. Kurlansky’s historical judgments are often trite and not seldom wrong.