Sunday, October 19, 2008

Da Vinci Decoded, by Michael J Gelb

I do not often wander into the self-help section of the library - I don't think they've yet written "Not Being a Jerk for Dummies", so I figure I'm a hopeless case. I wouldn't have read this book, except I got it for free, and it was a surprise, and I love surprises - I signed up for a class at work, and will apparently be meeting this author (over a teleconference call mind you) and they sent me a copy of his book - not signed or anything, you know, just a copy. Plus, I do like Da Vinci, and he really does seem like the sort of fellow for one to learn spiritual principles from, especially for the addled techologist type, like me. Otherwise, it's one I'd walk past at the library. It just feels like I really should qualify this review, it's like certain communicable diseases, or programming in BASIC - it's somethign you just don't admit in polite company, and certainly something you don't elucidate on.

That being said, I do not revile this book from the bottom of my heart. The author obviously did some serious thinking before he started writing, and seems to have a a wide, if eclectic base of experience on which to base his ideas. I guess that's the whole problem, for me - I really could have found this book enlightening, and I didn't.

The premise of the book is that Da Vinci, as the quintessential Renaissance Man, must of had some unique qualitites - mental, spiritual and physical - that gave him the power to know pretty much everything there was to know about everything in the world. A rather broad, but certainly reasonable premise. The book, additionally, makes the ambitious, but rather inspiring supposition that someone who so effectively combined the thinker and the feeler, the scientist and the artist, can be best understood in a study that is both intellectual and intuitive. Equal credence is given to scientific skepticism and spiritual significance. Carl Jung is frequently evoked. It held some great promise.

And then, it totally let me down. I love intuition, I do, and I love intellect, really. But, the beauty of Da Vinci is that he could live within the boundaries of both - he could walk what the Buddhists call the Middle Path. This mean accepting strictures as the basis for gaining power. I suppose most people if I talked about my feelings from the book would say that I wanted him to be less intuitive, that I wanted him to substantiate my claims - not so. Actually, when he delved into reason, he did... okay. Intuition was a sham, usually it was an excuse to not have to think, or felt that way. The farther we got in the book, the lazier the writing felt, and the lazier it got, the more it felt like when I was in seventh grade and tried to write essays that 'sounded important' - lots of feeling and no emotion. Substanceless. Intuition does not neccesarily have concreteness, but it has substance, it has to FEEL real, like I would believe it. I felt unconvinced by this book, even embarrased. Even things I DO believe (for instance, the abstract idea of a universal subconcious) felt embarrasing in this book.

I don't want to demean Mr. Gelb as a person, I think, perhaps, that he believes, more or less what he's saying. I felt like, just maybe, he wanted to write a spiritual manifesto, but had to fit it into a pop-psych opportunistic-because-Da-Vinci-Code-is-huge-right-now schedule, and just took the lazy way out, not trusting himself enough to write somethign that could be great without the benefit of Dan Brown's sales boost. Anyway, bleagh. Yeah. I promise not to say this to him, if I meet him. Unless he asks.
Da Vinci Decoded: Discovering the Spiritual Secrets of Leonardo's Seven Principles
By: Michael J. Gelb
Amazon Price: $10.00


Serena said...

Sounds like an interesting read, but I think I would pass this one by as well.

Christina said...

It definitely comes across when the author doesn't care or is too lazy to put effort into the writing. It's a shame it happened in a self-help book, perhaps they should have self-help books for self-help authors.

BTW, The Last Supper with the peeps just cracks me up.

Trixie said...

I have to say I'm LOL too - that pic of the Peeps at the Last Supper is too funny!

hamilcar barca said...

hmmm. you might want to read Mr. Gelb's first book, How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci to become a genius; then attain true spiritual enlightenment with this one. HTTLLdV comes with a workbook, and you'll know you're a genius when you do the "Ambiguity Dance". Whatever that is.

OTOH, there's money to be made in these self-success books. Since Mr. Gelb has dibs on Leonardo, I'm thinking for you, the answer is "How To Think Like Toussaint Louveture". :-)

and i agree with Christina - the Last Supper pic is priceless!

Unknown said...

I think Mr. Gelb probably had enough of a marketing nightmare writing about a purported homosexual who worked for the Borgias. I just don't know that America is ready for a book on how to become a black revolutionary who spent the last part of his life in a dank frozen cell in the Alps. I'll have to wait until someone writes 'The Toussaint Code', then whip it out really quick.

That's the thing about America, we think we want to be original, exciting, different. We complain about postmodern homogeny, about how the political parties are the same, how tv is always the same, how nothing new has happened in art for ages, about how kids lose their personality in school. But, then, we get all icky-yucky over anyone different.