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Math and the Mona Lisa by Bülent Atalay

Math and the Mona Lisa

The water you touch in a river is the last of that which has passed and the first of which is coming. Thus it is with time present. Life, if well spent, is long.

— Leonardo da Vinci

Science books are a lot of fun, and this one was no exception though it’s a bit different. It’s themes are Leonardo’s life and the confluence between the fields of arts and science.

It talks about how artistic intuition happens to agree very well with certain numbers (particularly the golden ratio), across generations from the egyptian pyramids to paintings to the Petronas towers. There’s also a discussion of how revolutions in artistic and scientific thinking sometimes take place in tandem.

Throughout the book though, Leonardo’s approach to science, art and learning remains an inspiring background. The reader is treated to an amazing being who excels at whatever he lays his hands to, yet his curiosity and desire for improvement and knowledge lead him to ever greater things. A consumate artist who made only about a dozen paintings, all masterpieces, each way better than the last. An amazing scientist who thought up concepts and experiments that wouldn’t be rediscovered until centuries later, but didn’t bother to publish his findings.

There’s also a bit of standard science history over the last millennium which most avid science readers will be familiar with but it never gets boring. The author writes in a conversational style that is very appealing. I’ve read quite a few science books but the art angle in the book was very refreshing.

I picked up the book totally at random from the library – turned out to be a totally great read. It may be slightly heavy on the mind though, in case you don’t like art or science much!

Rating: 3.5 / 5

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